Voting rights remain an issue for undocumented students

In a time of anti-undocumented rhetoric, the idea of voting rights remains a beacon of hope for undocumented Americans eager to join the political process.

“Because voting is considered both a right and a privilege, it’s malleable in a lot of cases to the political right, unfortunately,” said political science professor Marcela Garcia-Castanon.

The 2016 presidential election season has been filled with anti-undocumented and anti-Latino resentment, fueled by the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. But the connection between Latino and undocumented are often misconstrued, according to AB540 Dream Coordinator Norma Salcedo.

“The biggest thing is saying it’s not a Latino issue,” Salcedo said. “I think that the information that’s being spewed in some of these election events and some of these debates is that immigration is a brown issue — and it’s definitely not.”

According to a 2014 PEW Research Center, Mexican immigrants made up 52 percent of all undocumented Americans. The identity assigned by Donald Trump in his anti-Mexican speech during the beginning of the presidential race as undocumented people being Mexican is simply not true. In fact, more often than not, it creates a harmful racial resentment toward all Latino people. Latinos are viewed the most negatively of any immigrant group in America today, according to a study done by the University of Cincinnati.

There are a number of initiatives on the table that will allow non-citizen parents to vote on school board elections, including Prop N in San Francisco. This will allow legal guardians of students in the San Francisco school system to have a say in their children’s education. The path to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and AB540 students the chance to vote is a little more complicated. Ivan Yanez, a senior anthropology major and DACA recipient doubts they will get access to voting until they are granted citizenship, which he thinks could take months, or even years.

DACA is a federal law allowing some undocumented people access to work permits, temporarily protecting them from deportation. This law hangs in the balance this election season since it was a federal executive order that can be repealed by a sitting president.

Yanes agrees with this proposition to allow undocumented parents to vote on school board bills. “They’re the parents. They’re the guardians. They have the right to decide what’s happening to their kids,” Yanez said.

Undocumented movements across the country have been engaging people through rallies and civic engagement, according to political science professor Marcella Garcia-Castanon.

“When you threaten a group, if that group gets mobilized, you’re in trouble,” Garcia-Castanon said.

According to Garcia-Castanon, rallies and protests led by undocumented activists is how this year, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to allow undocumented Californians to buy health insurance.

Information about the numbers of DACA recipients is hard to gather, according to Salcedo. It’s hard for the school to provide services to AB 540 students because they have no idea how many go to SF State.

“Especially in higher education, things don’t happen unless we have numbers,” Salcedo said. She also said the school won’t provide funding for programs if they don’t see a legitimate need for them.

The school is in the process of gathering exact numbers, but until then the initiatives and programs that the AB540 Dream Center is meant to provide will not exist.  

“After I got DACA, I was like ‘I’m safe,’” said Eric Pari, a senior broadcasting and electronic communications arts major and DACA recipient. Eric says he tries to keep the election out of his mind because thinking about it can be scary.

A big distinction that isn’t made by a lot of Americans and can lead to anti-undocumented sentiment is the difference between DACA and criminal, according to Garcia-Castanon. This is a barrier to allowing undocumented people to have a voice through a vote.

“Donald Trump has focused on that most negative stereotype,” Garcia-Castanon said about the stereotype that immigrants are criminals.

In fact, she said undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or report crimes because of their fear of being deported.

“We need to work hard to prove we deserve to be a part of the society,” Yanez said.

Astrid Cifuentes, a junior music major and DACA recipient said she’s worried about the upcoming election season. She thinks the comments made about both undocumented and Latino Americans are crazy and stereotypical.

“I feel like he’s just a joke,” Cifuentes said about Trump. “How can a person like that be in a position to be president?”

All three students expressed interest in participating in this year’s presidential election.

“I feel anger and disappointment that there’s so much different wording to describe undocumented folks,” Yanez said.

He thinks it’s unfair to categorize people the way that Trump has been. He feels like he is very much a part of the American community because he has been here since grade school. Yanez said having DACA status has helped him feel safe.

Despite racial resentment, political action is allowing undocumented people to have a voice in their government at local and state levels.

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  • DACA is not law. It was an executive decision by President Obama to allow undocumented youth deferred action from deportation. It allows them to get drivers licenses, Social Security cards, and a work permit. This is not a path to citizenship. Trump has said that if he becomes president, he will end DACA, which as president he can do.