Apathy is Not an Option: Election Night for Undocumented Americans (non-fiction essay)

By Edber Macedo

Edber is third year UCLA student and a member of Dream Team Los Angeles.

Inside the UCLA Labor Center on Election Night 2012.


On November 6, 2012 people across the world placed their attention to on the American people (or more accurately the Electoral College) to who they would choose as the person who would influence all corners of the world.
The U.S. is a special place where despite having the adequate resources and mediums to circumvent political information and encourage the right to vote – it falls on careless ears. Most Americans either go through a phase or end up residing in the disillusioned bubble that their vote does not matter.

However, there are a group of undocumented residents that carefully and anxiously awaited the results of the 2012 presidential elections. I attended an Election Night gathering at the UCLA Labor Center in Downtown Los Angeles. A local immigrant rights’ group, DREAM Team L.A. (DTLA), hosted the viewing party where all community members were invited.

Many of the viewers were undocumented students themselves that had either have been approved or had applied for President Obama’s new immigration policy directive, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA). There were also other undocumented students that were nervous to see who would arise victorious since the new president would change the path on where immigration reform would lead.

The idea that would most befuddle U.S. citizens is why would undocumented residents would be so invested in the 2012 elections despite being barred from voting – the most notable act of political participation. I had spoken to some people about their thoughts on the election as they checked their Twitter timeline and glanced back at the projector showing electoral vote count.

Earlier that week, a van full of DTLA members went to Nevada to canvass for President Obama’s reelection campaign. Undocumented students and their allies also pushed forth efforts in registering eligible residents in time to vote on November 6. Labor organizations and unions have been key allies to undocumented immigrants and labor activists have been instrumental in
bringing awareness on how each presidential candidate would affect the delicate issue of immigration reform.

These students and workers have been supportive of Barack Obama’s campaign because he supports immigrant friendly legislation and also pushed through the DACA action when the hyper partisan Congress could not progress on the issue of immigration. This is also why many immigration activists opposed Republican candidate Mitt Romney. He had promised further militarization of the border, vetoing the DREAM Act, and proposed making life incredibly dreadful to the point that undocumented residents would be forced to take their families back to their country of origin.

The fact that they were not American citizens did not deter them from trying to influence the political process and raise consciousness. One of the central reasons as to why undocumented students have risen to the occasion of activism and grassroots organizing is that it helps mediate their situation of being in the U.S. without papers. Many undocumented immigrants have a traumatic fear of having their unlawful status exposed and being separated from their families as a consequence of deportation. Undocumented immigrants who openly reveal their status and organize with an outspoken identity of being undocumented are (paradoxically) protected from deportation. By engaging in political outreach and community organizing, they build a network of supporters that can effectively prevent such an occasion like deportation. It was through that mindset and framing that the immigrant youth movement, a new statement of resistance was born:

“Undocumented and Unafraid”. Civil disobediences were modeled after the notion of nonviolence and undocumented students used this tactic to occupy Senator John McCain’s office in Arizona, to blocking one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard. The objective was to disrupt people’s obedient routines and get their attention to an urgent issue. One of the most unapologetic events in pressuring political action was a civil disobedience in July 2010 when twenty-one undocumented student-activists refused to let Congress go silent on their efforts to pass the federal DREAM Act; all 21 individuals were arrested at the U.S. Capitol.

Even after the participants were arrested in D.C., none were deported due to the attention they received. The actions speak volumes on how passionate and serious these student-activists were on making their voices heard even when most U.S. citizens today are too comfortable to consider getting arrested for their values/beliefs. The event would go on to spur several actions that would continue even after the federal DREAM Act’s failure in the Senate in December 2010.

However, several of the undocumented student-activists were not outright unafraid on the evening of Nov. 6, some kept hesitantly focused on the projection screen of Mitt Romney’s leading electoral votes. Some viewers appeared worried and feared that a Republican administration would further disenfranchise the immigrant community.

It appears as one woman, alumni from UCLA, was waiting to see who would win the election before she turned in her Deferred Action application. She acknowledged that despite having been involved in the immigrant rights movement for quite some time, this person was afraid that her information would not be safe with a Romney presidency.

Regardless, she admitted that even if Obama were to lose, it would only create a strong sense of urgency in the immigrant youth movement and she was ready for that reality. Most people around the room kept checking their phones or their laptops for external reports on which candidate had won a certain state. People filtered around the room, peeking at each other’s Facebook status feed or pouring a cup of coffee.

First sound of positive news was that the voters of Maryland had approved a referendum that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at their public universities/colleges. The Maryland DREAM Act affirmed that education should be a priority for all students regardless of their immigration status. At around 8:10pm, the projector screen had malfunctioned and viewers instead huddled around a sole laptop streaming the results. “THAT’S IT, THAT’S IT –OBAMA WON!” people squinted at the news ticker that read Barack Obama with 274 votes and the reaction was of relief. Some individuals sat back down, calmly glad that Romney had lost and others smiled cheerfully that the immigrant community was not going to endure any more setbacks than it already had to deal with. In the midst of the positive news, everyone updated their statuses and texted their family and soon began to pack up to go. Even with having Barack Obama reelected, all people there and the larger immigrant community knew what the next step would be, putting pressure on the President so that he keeps his second term promise to reform the immigration system.

Undocumented students know that they had adverted an unfortunate situation with Mitt Romney not being elected, but it was now time to go uphold the universal and democratic values of keeping our political leaders in check.


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