Election 2020

Meet Election 2020’s Newest Voting Bloc: Kids of Undocumented Immigrants

Police and ICE radicalized her as a young child and now? She organizes voters.

Demonstrators protest Trump administration policy that enables federal agents to separate undocumented migrant children from their parents at the border on June 5, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Nina S. was 15 when a Milwaukee police officer threatened to report her undocumented mother to ICE during a traffic stop. Nina and her younger siblings are U.S. citizens and their mother had been raising them alone since their father died seven years earlier. They risked losing their one remaining parent.

In the end, the officer issued Nina’s mom a ticket. But the experience turned Nina into an activist. Today, as a first-time voter and sophomore at Marquette University, she is on a mission: to register other new voters, share her story, and ensure that everyone at Marquette — from her classmates to closest friends — understands the consequences of next month’s election.

Nina is part of a growing movement of first-time voters from mixed-status families for whom immigration policy is driving political participation. These young people stand at the intersection of key demographics — Generation Z, Hispanic voters. and faith groups to name a few. Their activism could make all the difference on November 3rd. In Wisconsin, young organizers from mixed status families and communities have reached out to nearly 20,000 voters to help them navigate voter registration and the voting process. That’s only three thousand less than the margin by which Trump won our state in 2016. And the numbers keep growing.

I meet young people like Nina every day. In my job as a youth-voter advocate in Wisconsin, I see the laser-focused work of high school students speaking to teachers and administrators, of sorority sisters mobilizing the Greek community, and of children whose parents are at risk of deportation. They have been out in force for months, knocking on doors and appealing to communities across the state. Their message is simple: Your vote can keep families together. Use your electoral power to change the course of history.

I went into voter and immigrant advocacy, because I’ve experienced the trauma of being shut out — and the healing that comes when doors finally open.

As a 31-year-old DACA-recipient from a mixed-status family, I’m inspired by this rising generation. When I was their age, I avoided politics. I hid my immigration status out of fear that I’d endanger myself or my parents. But living in the shadows took a toll on my mental health. I struggled with depression, alcohol abuse, and self-harm. Receiving DACA at 26 liberated me. Suddenly, I could live my life without fear, get a driver’s license, and go to college. I went into voter and immigrant advocacy, because I’ve experienced the trauma of being shut out — and the healing that comes when doors finally open.

Fortunately, this new generation is opening doors for themselves. Immigration policy, climate change, and economic inequality have motivated them to demand change. Young people from mixed-status families are especially powerful advocates because they speak from experience. Their parents are among the country’s millions of undocumented essential workers280,000 of whom work in health care. In Wisconsin, they’re among the 14,571 immigrant entrepreneurs who created 55,354 jobs in 2018, according to New American Economy. That same year, immigrants in our state — including the undocumented — paid $2.7 billion in taxes. Nationally, undocumented immigrants pay billions into social security and Medicare, even though they can’t access these programs.

A lot of people don’t know any of this until young voters arrive on their doorstep. We’ve heard from so many undecided voters who suddenly see the concrete ways undocumented immigrants touch every facet of society. That includes the millions of undocumented agriculture workers responsible for our food supply. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that half of all field hands are undocumented, though that number is likely conservative. That also includes the scores of health care workers — including 62,600 Dreamers — helping us through the pandemic. Without a change in leadership, the White House will continue its push to deport Dreamers and millions of other essential workers. They will do it without concern for our country’s health care system or our food supply. They will do it without a thought to the 6 million American children who wake up each morning afraid that their parents will be taken away.

I remember being gripped by fear as a child, but the world has changed. Like so many, I am an undocumented immigrant and unafraid. Though we cannot vote, we are influencing thousands of like-minded, first-time voters to cast their ballots against Donald Trump — and against hate. In Wisconsin, we’ve seen that strong voter turnout can change the course of an election. We are well aware of the pivotal role Milwaukee plays in deciding who carries the state. As November 3rd approaches, we are poised to do just that. We must. The lives of so many depend on it.