These 6 Young Latinos Can’t Vote in the Most Important Election of Their Lifetime

Lead Photo: Photo: Mari Keeler Cornwell
Photo: Mari Keeler Cornwell
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With polls tightening four days before the presidential election, voting is becoming increasingly crucial. And with 27.3 million eligible Latino voters in this historic election (up from 24 million in 2012), it’s clear that Latino turnout can have a dramatic effect on who becomes the next president. However, when it comes of heading to the polls, we end up lagging behind other ethnic groups. The New York Times reports that roughly the same percentage of eligible Latinos – about 48 percent – voted in the 2012 election as in 1988.

In the 2012 presidential election, a record 11.2 million Latinos voted. This number’s expected to rise this year due to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. And though Trump and Hillary Clinton have spent a chunk of this election focusing on their immigration platforms, it’s hardly the only issue on the line. This election will have ramifications on health care, minimum wage, and the economy. The next president will also pick at least one Supreme Court Justice – a person who will tip the scales one way or another.

Because there’s still so much apathy and frustration with this year’s election, we reached out to young people who cannot vote to hear why sitting out is not an option. Most of them are DACA recipients (with the exception of one who is formerly undocumented and now has a U visa), meaning that they have the right to seek higher education and work – tangible things that the next president can either fortify or undo. Here’s what they had to say in their own words:

These interviews have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.


Karla Pérez

Age: 23
Years in the US: 21 years
Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico
Location: Texas
Occupation: Second-year law student at the University of Houston Law Centers

There’s too much at stake this election for people to sit out and not vote. In particular, the lives of millions of immigrants will be impacted and people who can vote should use the power of their vote to represent millions of people like me who can’t vote.

For those people who don’t want to vote, I would say think about how the lives of millions of people will be destroyed if you don’t vote. The Republican candidate has been an extreme racist, xenophobe – everything that you can think of that can be horrible. He embodies that. This man from the very beginning has come out and said that he’ll deport the undocumented people in this country and made it clear in the last debate where he talked about a deportation force.

People of color and immigrants are already subject to high levels of policing that are very damaging for our communities, and I can only imagine how much worse things would be if people don’t represent, for example, the interests of immigrants and people of color when they go vote. And I understand there’s a lot of well, you know, I know people really don’t feel like if they vote for example for Hillary Clinton they’re voting for the less of two evils, but I think people need to understand that voting is only a part of this process. People who can vote, must vote. And regardless of who the next president is we have to hold them accountable for our communities.


Juan Escalante

Photo: Melissa Artieda Photography

Age: 27
Years in the US: 16 years
Birthplace: Caracas, Venezuela
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Occupation: Digital Campaigns Manager at America’s Voice

I found out that I was undocumented back in 2006, 2007 – just as I was about to graduate from high school. I was just getting scholarship offers, and I knew at that point in time that if I wanted to go to college or if I wanted to move my life forward in this country despite my circumstances, I had to essentially get involved in politics, understand policy, and seek some sort of alternative that was gonna provide my parents and I – and my brothers – with any sort of immigration relief.

So I’d say that for the past ten years leading up to this election I’ve been doing work around immigration advocacy and policy, and I’ve done everything from lobby at the state and local level for in-state tuition for undocumented students like myself to the federal level pushing for immigration reform, the Dream Act, and beyond.

I have had friends who have said that they don’t like either candidate or that they haven’t registered or that they don’t know enough about the election process or they’re not informed enough or what have you. But the thing that I try to explain to them is essentially what this election means for me. So I try to bring it back to my story and everything that we’ve been working toward.

My pitch to them is that their vote holds enough weight and enough power for them to elect the people who are going to decide my future in this country and who are going to decide the future of this country as a whole as well. Are we going to be a welcoming and inclusive nation that allows immigrants to have a shot at the American Dream or are we going to be a nation that tries to promote the racist and anti-immigrant values that we’ve seen from candidates like Donald Trump and the Republican Party?


Reyna Montoya

Photo by Axel Dupeux for Open Society Foundations

Age: 25
Years in the US: Almost 13 years
Birthplace: Tijuana, Mexico
Occupation:  Founder of Aliento
Location: Arizona

I know that this year is completely different. We’re in a very different election cycle and a lot of people are just very disillusioned with the two-party system and how we have a bad choice either way, but I tell them that they have this right to vote and that they should utilize it, because that’s something that people like me don’t have. What I’m getting a lot when I’m talking to people is they are really frustrated with the presidential election. For example, I live in the state of Arizona and we have very important local cases, especially against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, so then I start telling them that the presidential election, of course, it matters, but there’s also all the other local votes that are going to be really important for our future here in Arizona.

I definitely can see the frustration from people. I’m even frustrated myself. Trump is definitely not an option. He’s an ultimate racist, and he has completely shown how much he not only hates people of color but also how anti-Muslim, how anti-women, how many anti-different things he is and what he really stands for. But on the other hand the choice is Hillary Clinton, who also has really horrible foreign policy that has impacted also a lot of undocumented immigrants. Voting for a third-party candidate right now would send a message that we are very unhappy with the two-party system, but in reality that can also give an opportunity, especially in a different state, for Trump to win if they are voting for a third-party candidate.


Karla Casique

Age: 20
Years in the US: 13 years
Birthplace: Venezuela
Occupation: Journalism student at the University of Maryland
Location: College Park, Maryland

I would give anything to vote, to have a voice and some sort of say in the policies and laws that affect myself and the communities that I am a part of. Due to my citizenship status, I can’t do that and have to be at the sidelines, watching things unfold. It’s a paralyzing and suffocating feeling. Voting is a privilege, an honor and an immense responsibility. The fact that some people are saying that they don’t want to vote, shows their privilege and how they won’t be affected greatly by the results of the election.

The extremes have been at play during this election from day one. You have had candidates talk about anchor babies, about racial profiling, mass deportations, reproductive laws, etc. Half of the country right now is believing and acting upon the hatred that Trump has pushed to the forefront. People now more than ever are openly talking about their anger of “illegal immigrants,” they’re putting lynching displays on their lawns as a “joke,” they have an opportunity to use their racism, xenophobia, homophobia and other -isms because we have a presidential candidate who is vocal and not afraid to say those things.


Ciriac Alvarez Valle

Age: 21
Years in the US: 15 years
Birthplace: Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
Occupation: Student at the University of Utah, Mentor for the Gear Up program
Location: Utah

I hear the hesitation and the skepticism in elections because it feels like one vote doesn’t make a difference. However, I think it depends on the way we look at things. While the presidential election is moved by the electoral college and a two-party system, this is not the only election that matters. Local elections from governors, senators, and representatives races give our communities the opportunity and power to change legislations and policies in our own states. Vote because there are more elections happening than the presidential election. Vote because local races elect officials at much closer numbers. Vote because your vote matters in more than just a presidential race.

Living in a historically conservative and Republican state, I understand the disillusionment in the elections. However, I cannot stand idly by as my governor, Gary Herbert, my Representative, Chris Stewart, and other elected officials of Utah endorse Donald Trump. They are running for re-election and should be held accountable because they represent me and my community. Donald Trump’s values do not align with Utah, and its showing in recent polls. Our individual voices matter. That’s why you should vote. Vote because you deserve someone who represents and endorses candidates who’s values align with yours.

As an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Mr. Trump has directly attacked my communities and the communities I advocate for. More importantly, the support he has gained from his hateful campaign against marginalized communities is frightening. There is division and fear that must be acknowledged and changed because these attitudes have been and will be here despite Mr. Trump. The stakes are high for everyone, but I am an undocumented Mexican-American who cannot vote. Immigrants like myself can help register voters and work on campaigns, but it is also up to those who are eligible to vote to make sure our voices are heard, too.


Angy Rivera

Photo: Mari Keeler Cornwell

Age: 26
Years in the US: ~22 years
Birthplace: Colombia
Occupation: New York State Youth Leadership Council
Location: New York
DACA: No, U visa

It is important to exercise your right to vote because it is exactly that, a right. If voting wasn’t so important there wouldn’t be so many efforts to take your right to vote away. It is crucial to vote in the presidential elections but also at a local level as well, which are oftentimes ignored. It is also crucial for us to organize in our communities and fight for change. Change and justice will not come from simply voting. Voting is one of the many tools we utilize to make our voices heard as we continue to organize against the many issues impacting our communities from deportations, policing, affordable housing, living wages, and more.

The stakes are high every year. Every year our communities are struggling to make it by. Election years feel like the most because elected officials try to entice our communities for our votes. I believe a vote for a third party member is a valid vote. My hope is that one day people do not feel the need to vote for the “lesser of two evils” but can actually vote for someone who genuinely cares about us and moves our values and the issues we care about forward.