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Undocumented students feel voiceless during elections

October 31, 2018

Undocumented students feel voiceless during elections

As a nearly lifelong member of the Bay Area, junior accounting major and undocumented SF State student Sara Diaz said her inability to vote is unfair in a proclaimed democracy.

“I feel that I am part of the community and the issues that are coming up affect me, affect my family, and affect my community,” Diaz said.

Instead, Diaz takes action by encouraging family members who can vote and educating them about electoral topics.

Since 1996, federal law has prohibited undocumented people from voting in U.S. elections, leaving many voices unheard.

But since 2016, undocumented parents of children living in San Francisco have been allowed to vote in local school board elections.

An estimated 35,000 people live without legal status in San Francisco, according to the 2017 Pew Research report. But a vast majority of local undocumented parents have yet to sign up since registration began in July.

“As of yesterday, 50 noncitizens in San Francisco have registered to vote,” said SF Director of Elections John Arntz on Oct. 27.

Fear is one of the main reasons undocumented people are not registering to vote, as undocumented people feel attacked in this political climate, according to Diaz.

“There’s a sentiment that, ‘You’re undocumented, I have the right to tell you off,’ because that’s really coming from the top administration,” Diaz said.

Any information provided in voter registration, such as birthdate or address can be used by ICE, according to the Department of Elections.

But, said Erick Peraza, an undocumented SF State communications major, it’s still crucial for all U.S. residents to have a say in the laws and government that affect them.

“I think it’s important for anyone who lives within the U.S. to definitely have an opportunity to vote because it does affect them,” Peraza said.

Peraza acknowledges that the fear is similar to that of undocumented people registering for DACA, but said sometimes the risk for undocumented residents is worth taking.

“People need to get used to the idea of voting just like they did with DACA,” Peraza said.

It’s important for voices to be heard, he said, especially in the current administration.

“The people who are elected are going to have a voice that’s kind of challenging the presidency […] it’s kind of a fight and the best way to win this fight is to elect enough people who are going to challenge him,” he said.

Diaz said there are mixed messages in the media that on the one hand, encourages undocumented San Francisco residents to vote in school board elections, but on the other hand, also warn them of the risk.

“At the same time that they were promoting voting in local elections, in the Spanish channels for example, they were cautioning us that there’s a risk that if you register and vote at a local level, information will be available that you are undocumented,” Diaz said.

She said for a person to claim undocumented status on a voter registration form not only risks the sanctity of the person, but also of their family and children.

“Even though we are a sanctuary city, we don’t want to risk our livelihood in San Francisco, and our family’s,” Diaz said.

While some undocumented San Francisco residents will be voting, SF State undocumented students that are not parents of San Francisco children do not have the opportunity to vote.

Peraza said he hopes more noncitizens will be allowed to vote in the future.

“I’m from LA,” Peraza said. “It would be good to see the same rights that are being implemented in San Francisco to be implemented in LA because LA definitely has a large population of immigrants who will benefit from voting.”

Alexis is a reporter and former photojournalist.
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