By Milli Legrain in Maryland
With a smile from ear to ear, Rommel Sandino, a 31-year Nicaraguan immigrant, will be voting casting a ballot in his first presidential election on Tuesday in Maryland, one of five states holding primaries on another crucial voting day for both parties.
His choice in Tuesday's Maryland primary is clear, he says, and he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton, crediting her in part for a 1997 law signed by then president Bill Clinton with putting him on a legal immigration path.
The immigration activist from Hyattsville in Prince George's County, said it was the 1997 Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) that enabled him to become a U.S. citizen.
In 1989, aged four, Sandino, a distant relative of the legendary Nicaraguan revolutionary leader, Augusto Sandino, arrived illegally in the United States, along with his mother and a brother.
"The war was ending and Nicaragua was very bad. Food was rationed, " he recalled.
After spending seven months of his childhood in U.S. detention he went undocumented for 22 years due to an error by his lawyer, he told Univision. He finally won residency in 2011, before obtaining citizenship in May 2015.
Immigration is what determines his vote. "My brother-in-law is undocumented and so I keep fighting," he explains.
Although President Barack Obama has deported more immigrants than any previous president, Sandino hopes Hillary Clinton will make more effort to win permanent residency for the 5 million undocumented immigrants currently in limbo under deferred action programs - DACA and DAPA - being considered by the Supreme Court.
Few but important
A record 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential elections, according to the Pew Research Center. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut nd Rhode Island are voting on Tuesday as the contest enters the final stretch before the parties hold their conventions in July.
With 440,000 elligible Latino voters, Pennsylvannia has the largest potential Hispanic voting population on Tuesday, though they comprise only 4.5% of the elligible vote. By comparison, Connecticut has 280,000 elligible Latino voters, making up up 10.8% of the potential vote.
Rommel Sandino is not the only immigrant who is thankful to the Clintons. NACARA benefited migrants and asylum seekers from Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and the former Soviet Union. In a state with a 9.3% Hispanic population (556,000 Latinos), of which 199,000 are eligible to vote) voters like Sandino can make a difference to the outcome, even if only 38% are registered.
In 2008 Obama beat Hillary Clinton in Maryland by almost 25 points, but this year she leads polls in the battle for the state's 95 party convention delegates.
Maryland also has a Democratic primary for the Senate and two Democratic primaries for the House of Representatives, where two Latinos are represented: Joseline Peña-Melnyk (District 4) and Ana Sol Gutierrez (District 8).
As for Donald Trump, Sandino believes that "Republican candidates are not connecting with our community. Trump is pretty crazy to say that will deport so many people."
Still with Marco Rubio
Ilse Padrón, a Maryland real estate agent, agrees with Sandino about Trump. The Venezuelan-born mother of two plans to vote for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, even though he dropped out of the race in March.
Although he stopped campaigning, Republican primary rules allow candidates who left the race to remain on the ballot.
"My vote will be for Marco Rubio because I have to let the Republican Party understand that many people do not agree on how this election is unfolding," says Padrón.
Like Sandino, the immigration issue influences her vote, but from another perspective. Current migration flows are the "consequences of bad economies and bad decisions taken by the leaders [in some countries]. The United States cannot solve the problems of all these people," she says.
A fan of President Ronald Reagan, she is convinced that an economic policy based on free trade is the best solution. Meanwhile, "drastic measures must be taken to stop the flow of migrants who continue to cross in violation of the law," she says.
Padron also likes the positive message Rubio offers. "We heard Trump say that all Latinos have to go, you have to put a wall. But you have to motivate Latinos who are here to move forward, to get educated and show that we are important. Without us many things would not work," she adds. "I see Marco Rubio as a guy who can make Latinos realzie they can do it. His parents came from nowhere and he was educated and look where he is now, sitting in the United States Senate."