Unable to vote in the presidential election, a group of undocumented immigrants is knocking on doors in Northern Virginia in support of Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates, convinced that the outcome of the vote will determine whether they can secure a path to citizenship in the country they have known since childhood.
The vote-seekers are some of the 750,000 recipients of temporary legal status under the Obama administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They are acutely aware that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to deport the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants and that under a GOP-controlled Congress, past attempts at immigration reform have failed.
“All DACA recipients should take this on as an added responsibility, to change the power structure,” said Luis Angel Aguilar, 28, who received his protected status in 2013 and is helping to coordinate the effort. “Our voices need to be heard,” he said.
Four years after the DACA program was launched, many of the beneficiaries are still in a kind of limbo, unsure about whether their status would be renewed under a President Trump and concerned that their family members could be deported.
The uncertainty was underscored earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a federal court injunction against an expanded version of DACA and Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, which could benefit an additional 4 million people.
“The only way to resolve this is through the election,” said Kim Propeack, political director of CASA In Action. “There’s been a recent uptick of despair and energy around that 4-4 vote.”
The Maryland-based group is behind the Virginia campaign and a similar one in central Pennsylvania. Similar efforts are underway in Arizona and other battleground states. The Clinton campaign launched a separate effort earlier this year, “My Dream, Your Vote,” in which young undocumented immigrants, many of them brought to this country as children, urged Latino voters in North Carolina, Nevada, Florida and elsewhere to cast ballots for the Democratic nominee.
In Virginia, where Clinton is leading by double digits, the group has turned its focus to the suddenly close race in the 10th Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) faces an aggressive challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett.
CASA is also targeting voters in Prince William County, where more immigrants live and where Trump also has more support.
In the 10th District, which stretches west from McLean, through Loudoun County, toward the West Virginia border, Comstock backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the state’s GOP primary. She has kept her distance from Trump and, after the revelation of a 2005 recording of the nominee’s remarks about women, she declared that he would not get her vote.
But Trump’s history of controversial remarks about women, Mexican immigrants and Muslims have nonetheless weighed Comstock down among voters in the largely wealthy district that includes steadily growing Latino and Asian immigrant populations. Although the incumbent initially was favored, several political analysts have recently said the race is a toss-up.
The immigrant advocates who are working to take down Comstock are modeling their efforts after a largely successful campaign last year to stir up anti-Trump sentiments in Prince William County in favor of Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William), who beat Manassas Mayor Harold “Hal” Parrish II, a Republican, in a race for an open state Senate seat. Several of the people who knocked on doors last week also were involved in the earlier campaign.
“Did you know Barbara Comstock compared immigrants to FedEx packages?” Nayely Lopez, 29, asked a voter in Herndon, referring to a statement that the congresswoman made about a desire for tougher immigration laws while campaigning two years ago. “Just put a label on us so they can track us.”
The voter said she had not heard about the statement, and she took a Bennett flyer.
Like other DACA recipients, Lopez said she has become more confident in taking political stances as her life has improved.
A native of Mexico who arrived in Virginia when she was 13, Lopez grew up with fears of being deported. Although she was an A-student in high school, she said she had to turn down college scholarship offers because she was in the country illegally.
She found work answering phones inside a tax preparer’s office in Fredericksburg, Va., and worked her way up through several promotions. After receiving protected status under DACA in 2012, Lopez opened her own tax preparation office.
The single mother, who has a 12-year-old daughter, said she is concerned about relatives who are not protected under DACA and also worries that a more anti-immigrant administration could mean her work authorization, and her livelihood, gets stripped away.
“I still have family that doesn’t have legal status,” she said. “For me, this is very personal.”
But, in a swing state where Trump has recently renewed efforts to win over voters, that does not guarantee sympathy. At a home in Herndon, Pat Blizard, 78, told Lopez that she already voted for Trump with an absentee ballot.
“I’m sorry,” Blizard said, noting that she was frustrated with the spread of Spanish-speaking residents throughout the region. “I’m originally from Spain. My father never let us speak Spanish. He said, ‘You live here.’ ”
Lopez thanked her and moved on. “I understand people have other ideas,” she said, noting that an aunt had married a U.S. citizen who also supports Trump. “We discuss that a lot in my family.”
Jennifer Romero, 19, thought about her own relatives as she hustled through a different Herndon neighborhood of quiet cul-de-sacs with large two-story houses. She and a younger brother received protected status under DACA in 2014. Her parents, from Mexico, remain undocumented and vulnerable to deportation.
“That’s the fear,” said Romero, who lives in Stafford. “It’s like they’d take away what little we have.”
On a different afternoon in Woodbridge, the group tried to secure a few extra votes for Clinton and to get people to oppose a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would prohibit union organizing.
Aguilar scrolled through his smartphone to find likely Democratic voters through an online campaign database. At one stop, he encountered Mohammad Zoki Moqami, 44, whose family had recently arrived as refugees from Afghanistan.
“I cannot vote,” Moqami said apologetically.
“I can’t vote either,” Aguilar said, before mentioning Trump’s remarks about Muslims.
Handing Moqami a flyer, he urged: “Tell all your friends who can vote.”