null: nullpx

Undocumented migrants. If they can't vote, what can they do?

Driven by Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and trying to influence the views of other candidates on the issue, a group of mothers of Florida Dreamers is pushing to get out the vote. They learned from their children that they can bring about change.
8 Nov 2016 – 01:23 PM EST
Diana Hernández checks the list of people she's calling to urge them to vote. Crédito: Lorena Arroyo / Univision Noticias

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida – “I am calling to make sure you exercised your right to vote. You already voted? Great! We're calling from the Florida Immigrant Coalition. My name is Diana, and it's a pleasure knowing that you voted.”

Diana Hernández, a Honduran who has lived in Fort Lauderdale for 11 years, hung up the phone and erupted with joy. “Another who already voted!” she said proudly as she crossed a name off her list. The other women making phone calls join the celebration.

Most of them were undocumented migrants from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Guatemala.

They were members of the Florida branch of Dreamers ' Moms – mothers of children brought to the United States without papers. They cannot vote or donate to campaigns, but their children taught them to lose their fear. And they know that they can have an impact in this year's elections, marked by more anti-immigration rhetoric than ever.

“The words of Donald Trump have been a great motivation, because we feel wounded,” said Claudia Saucedo, 47, a pastry chef who came from Argentina 16 years ago with her husband and four children – today aged 16 to 28.

“Immigrants like us are mistreated, so we're defending ourselves. We believe that if the Hispanic community becomes aware of our power – like we did when (President Barack) Obama won – we can do it again now,” said Saucedo.

She's referring to the 2012 elections, when Obama won Florida by less than 1 percentage point. Polls before Tuesday's balloting showed that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were neck-and-neck in the largest of all swing states, and that the Latino vote could tip the balance in favor of either candidate.

The goal of the Dreamers' mothers is only to push people to vote. They hit the streets in August to register voters, and in late October started to meet three times a week to make phone calls and two times to knock on doors and urge people to cast their ballots.

“We explain to people that we are volunteers, that we want to boost the Hispanic vote and create a powerful force, not just for these elections but to continue after Tuesday,” said Saucedo.

The mothers made phone calls from a hall decorated with signs that said “Your voice is my vote” and “If you can vote, do it for those of us who can't,” as well as the logo of the Dreamers' Moms and the words, “Justice, Love, Dignity and Immigration Reform Now!”

The group does not support any one candidate, but its stand is clear: it wants immigration reform. And since the mothers know that might take awhile, they also are asking for measures to make their lives easier, such as allowing undocumented migrants to obtain Florida drivers' licenses.

The Florida mothers have made more than 38,000 phone calls and knocked on more than 5,000 doors this year, said Grace Toapanta, an official of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), which has worked with the mothers to get out the vote.

“I loved it because talking to people, telling them our stories, insisting … we registered many people who were not thinking of voting, who did not even remember there was an election, and many of those people have voted already,” said Saucedo. “We are doing a very tough job.”

And although she does not miss one of the mothers' events, it took her a long time to lose her fear and come out of the shadows.

When she came to the United States 16 years ago, Saucedo said, she never even thought that she was breaking the law. At the time, she was only thinking about giving her children a better future, she added. And despite the joys this country has given her, she was pained every time her children were as delinquents because they are undocumented.

Even her oldest son chided her for bringing him to the United States illegally after he realized that he was undocumented when he tried to enroll in The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. An institute official not to bother paying the tuition because he would have to leave the country, Saucedo said. Her 16-year-old daughter won a scholarship in Europe but could not accept it.

The Dreamers pointed the way

But the women came together precisely because of their children, the Dreamers who organized themselves and lobbied Obama to sign an executive order that temporarily protects them from deportation and allows them to obtain work permits, renewable every two years.

They are an example of how the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States also have the power to change things.

Lorella Praelli, the national Latino Vote director for the Democratic Party campaign, who was brought to the United States as a child from Peru by her parents without documents and became one of the leaders of “United We Dream."

"The power of the undocumented community is impressive and the Dreamers have made history because they are a population that cannot vote, but have the power to bring about results, to have an impact and to influence the elections and politics in general," said Praelli in a phone interview with Univision News.

"It is very important to understand that despite not having the right to vote, does not mean that one has no right to participate and to express their voice to direct a result," she pointed out.

In fact, the Clinton team created a program that also involves undocumented people in the campaigns of several key states like Nevada, Colorado, Virginia or Florida.

"In this last phase we bought some plastic bracelets that say 'Mi sueño tu voto’ ('My Dream Your Vote') that the dreamers give to people who can vote so they remember that they are going to vote for their dreams", explains Praelli, who got citizenship after marrying an American and is going to vote for the first time in these elections.

Meanwhile, Florida Dreamer's Moms continue to make calls and knock on doors and claim that whoever wins they will continue their activism:

"If Hillary Clinton wins, we hope she can live up to her promises to the immigrant community, because now the deportations are very severe and there are many broken families," said Saucedo. "A good social base is formed with a good family base, so if you want a great America there has to be a great family."

What if Trump wins? In that case, she said returning to her country is not the solution. "We must continue to strive for unity, to continue organizing, until we can make our immigration system fairer," she said.