As people in Nevada cast their ballots, some do not have the same privilege. Students like Luis Moreno Arias and Maria Villasenor-Magana at the University of Nevada, Reno are unable to vote because they are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Since the Obama-Biden administration introduced DACA in 2012 over 600 thousand individuals are benefiting from the program, according to figures from the U.S Citizen and Immigration Services.
The program was formed to provide educational and work opportunities for those who were brought to the U.S before the age of 16. The program also provides protections against deportation. Recipients of the program are often referred to as “Dreamers”
Moreno Arias was born in Cuidad Guzman, Mexico before his parents made the decision to emigrate to the United States in 2001 when he was only 3-years-old. Since being enrolled at the university he has been reliant on DACA to have some rights, but the right to vote is not one of them.
He said not being able to vote makes him feel “powerless”.
“The idea that what happens to me and my family is in the hands of people who think it’s ok to not vote because they’re ‘not really into politics’ or they ‘don’t like either of the options’,” he said. “I feel scared because I have only known this country my whole life, and I have built my future around this country. To know that [DACA] can be taken away, it gives me chills.”
DACA is the only reason Moreno Arias can go to school, work and support his family. He said this election has the possibility of changing his livelihood.
“There is nothing I want more than to be able to have the same opportunities as the people in this country, especially since I have spent the same amount of time in the states as them,” he said. “This election is more than a decision, it’s our livelihood.”
In 2019 Dreamers paid $5.7 billion in federal taxes and over $3 billion in state and local taxes, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Additionally, Dreamers pay on average over eight percent of their income in state/local taxes, according to a report by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.
For Moreno Arias he said he wishes he could vote this election because he contributes as much to society as a citizen.
“It feels infuriating because we literally pay the same taxes, build the same economy, and live the same lives as our citizen counterparts but because we wanted more for our families we are silenced,” Moreno Arias said. “ There are [thousands] of voices in this country that aren’t being heard. I feel vulnerable.”
He added the only candidate he could morally support is former vice president Joe Biden. Although Moreno Arias cannot vote he said the election still scares him. For him it means the possibility of losing DACA or keeping the program.
“I don’t feel safe and I won’t feel safe until I see the results,” Moreno Arias said. “Although Biden has his fair share of skeletons in his closet, I know that he is the best decision at this time and unless he is the winner of this election, I will not feel safe for the next four years.”
Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf issued a statement in late July saying DACA will no longer be accepting applications for first-time recipients as the program’s existence is under consideration.
Villasenor-Magana echoed Moreno Arias’ fear and hopes the election results go the way she wants.
“I have a lot of anxiety, my whole future depends on who becomes president, it terrifies me that we could get everything we — Dreamers— have worked so hard to accomplish taken away in a heartbeat,” she said.
Villasenor-Magana came to the states from Baja California Sur, Mexico when she was just 9-years-old and said since being in the county this election will be the most impactful for her. With not being able to vote she said her voice is being silenced makes her frustrated.
“This election is perhaps one of the most controversial ones because we as a society want to move forward but it seems we are stuck still dealing with people with a high sense of superiority and minorities seen as “what’s cool about this country” and not as part of this country,” she said. “So of course I do not feel safe. [Dreamers] do not get financial aid nor any type of government assistance, yet we pay our fair amount taxes. It is hard to save for school, help our families and on top of having to pay every 9 months for [a DACA] renewals.”
Even though Villasenor-Magana cannot vote, she encourages those who can to vote for those like her.
“This election means my future; the possibilities that will be accessible for me and other Dreamers, or the unfair and unfortunate possibilities taken away from us.”
Moreno Arias said people should unify this election to keep protections for Dreamers and minority communities.
“I like this anonymous quote that I have seen circulating recently, ‘The decision to not vote because this election ‘doesn’t affect you’ is rooted in privilege, your vote affects more than just you.’,” he said. “ It is our responsibility to take care of each other, we have seen too many times that the government’s priority is not always us.”
Undocumented students and DACAmented students at the university seeking support are advised to reach out to the Jahahi Mazariego, the university’s social service coordinator, at email@example.com.
Dreamers in the Nevada System of Higher Education seeking legal advice are encouraged to connect with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ immigration clinic. The clinic provides free consultation and support for DACA students across all NSHE institutions. Those wishing to schedule an appointment can call (702) 895-2080.
Andrew Mendez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AMendez2000.