They came to the United States as children, grew up for all intents and purposes as Americans, and because of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies were allowed to come out of the shadows and lead semi-normal lives.
But these are anxious times for the hundreds of thousands of young adults, sometimes called DREAMers, who attained temporary legal status through Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
With Republican Donald Trump promising to cancel the program and return them to the pool of undocumented immigrants threatened with deportation, the DREAMers know the Nov. 8 election could determine the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their family members.
But they don’t have the right to vote, and thus must rely on others to be their voice in this election.
I sat down Friday with a group of young Chicagoans of Latino descent — a lawyer, caterer and two community organizers born in Mexico, plus an aspiring architect from Venezuela — to talk about their precarious situation and what they are doing about it.
Erendira Rendon, who pulled them together, has found the best way to deal with her own anxiety about the election is to do what she does best. That’s to organize others to reach out to family, friends and neighbors who are eligible to vote to make sure they exercise that right.
The campaign in which she is involved is called “My Future Your Vote!” or in Spanish, “¡Mí Futuro Tú Voto!”
The idea is simple.
“I need you to vote for my future so I can stay here,” explained Rendon, 31, who because of her non-profit work must walk a non-partisan tightrope, trusting that others already know which candidate is the greater threat to that future.
The hope is that registered Latino voters will respond more to the personal connection from nieces, nephews and cousins than they have to past get-out-the-vote-efforts.
Most Mexican-American families are a mixture of those who have legal status and those who do not.
“It’s much more difficult for them to look at me and say ‘I’m not going to vote,’ ” Rendon said.
But Latino voter participation has always lagged behind other demographic groups, and it remains to be seen whether Trump will change that.
Despite the Republican nominee’s anti-Mexican rhetoric, there hasn’t been much evidence of a Latino outpouring in Illinois in 2016. Per usual, Chicago’s Hispanic wards have produced the lowest early voting totals in the city so far.
There’s still time to turn that around before the polls close Nov. 8, although national efforts are focused in states other than Illinois.
Carlos Roa, 29, of Rogers Park, said the “enthusiasm gap” for Hillary Clinton is a big part of the problem this year among Latino voters, as it is for others.
Our conversation took place before it was reported the FBI had re-opened its investigation of Clinton’s emails, which isn’t going to improve that enthusiasm.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Roa, whose parents brought him to the U.S. from Venezuela when he was two. “It’s really almost like an anti-vote against Trump.”
Roa, who recently completed a college degree in architecture and now is seeking to be licensed, said he’s unwilling to return to the time when his undocumented status made it difficult for him to support himself.
Roa said he had to work on his younger sister, a U.S. citizen by virtue of being born here, to overcome her normal political apathy to vote this year.
Nalelly Silva, 22, a catering events manager from Pilsen with a marketing degree from Illinois Institute of Technology, said she also explained her risky situation to her U.S.-born sisters, who are too young to vote.
“It killed me to see their reactions,” she said, brushing aside a tear.
It kills me that people will read this and still think Trump ought to be president.