I cannot vote in the 2016 elections.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am undocumented.
But in an alternate universe, I am a registered voter in my home state of New Jersey, and I have until the 13th to change my party affiliation from “independent” to “Democratic.”
In that alternate universe, the DREAM Act would have passed in 2008 when it was first introduced. In that world, the Democrats would have made a reasonable argument and would have convinced enough Republicans to see that this was a humanitarian issue instead of using it as a hostage to try to win over Latino voters. I would have put in my volunteer hours (one of the provisions that were given up) to put myself on the pathway to citizenship.
I know that in that universe, I wouldn’t have held back my tears on a car ride to Michigan to hear that the DREAM Act failed in the lame vote sessions. I choked up but, I held my head up knowing that it failed by a margin of five votes necessary to prevent a Republican filibuster.
December 18, 2010 was a cold day in Washington, D.C. Undocumented but afraid, I changed my profile picture and repeatedly called Kay Hagan and Jim Bunning from my dorm room in Kentucky.
Our hopes for change were riding high. They had just passed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The numbers added up if all the Democrats sided together and if one or two Republicans voted with the Democrats.
The DREAM Act had passed the House, and it needed a filibuster-proof majority of sixty votes for it to become law.
One by one, ayes had it. We thought that this was a possibility! We had even turned three Republican senators to vote aye for our future.
Then like a blade, we ended up only with 55 ayes and 41 nays. The dream had died.
I still remember their names sometimes when I go to sleep at night. Kay Hagan of North Carolina. Max Baucus of Montana. Jon Tester of Montana. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who did not attend the vote, issued a statement that he would have said no even if he were there.
We’re now back to this reality where I can’t vote. In fact, I still don’t have a pathway to citizenship. While I no longer truly stand for the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill, I still remember vividly the exasperation. Five Democrats turned away from their parties to vote against me.
Three years ago today, I received my Employment Authorization Card along with my Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which began my borrowed time as someone with legal presence but without a legal status in this country. While people talk of restoring civility in this election, this election represents my entire life here in this country. I live on a borrowed time — two years at a time.
While I don’t think it’s feasible that a President Trump or Cruz will revoke it immediately, they will almost certainly end the administrative relief. My legal presence has an expiration date: 2017. What you do at the ballot box affects me and millions of others like me directly, and it indirectly impacts everyone around me.
Folks from Washington, D.C. are taken somewhat aback when they find out the so-called DREAMers like me don’t support Hillary Clinton. She is the great white hope for the Democratic Party, after all. And they cite that Bernie Sanders hadn’t been “with the party” through the times as an independent.
For many in our community, we lost the faith in the party that promised us changes and reneged on them. The Democratic Party hadn’t been with us. Deportations escalated through the Obama years, 2 million and counting. Our communities were offered as sacrificial lambs to empower the ever-so emboldened conservatives. If there was one issue that the Republicans and the Democrats agreed on ACA, it was that undocumented people like my family would not be allowed the basic right to healthcare.
Even when the President began to take action, more people were deported and self-deporting as they couldn’t wait any longer. But we were told to wait until the elections; the Democratic Party did not want to stand with the immigrant community. It was evident in 2014 when candidates like Kentucky Attorney General Alison Lundergan Grimes spoke up against Obama’s immigration policies. It’s ludicrous that the party expects us to blindly support the candidate of their choice when the track record stands against them.
This is what I ask of communities that will be heading to the polls soon. Please think of us who were left behind by the Democratic Party establishment.
Please stand on the side of the communities that were hurt by the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994, when it was decided that a generation of Black men and women would be behind bars.
Think of the communities hurt by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1997. The ten-year ban on reentry meant that I would have to sever my connections to my homeland and miss events like my sister’s graduation, her wedding, and my grandparents’ funerals.
Remember the seniors and the working class left behind by Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. The Korean American seniors whose benefits had been cut.
Think of me crying in the streets of Ann Arbor knowing that the dream was dead.
These are all snapshots in my lifetime of the Democratic failure to stand with us.
Who do you trust? Do you trust the choice that the party establishment is asking you to trust? Or do you trust us?