These Young Arizona Immigrants Can’t Vote. But They’re Helping Others Do So This Fall.

headshots of eight young Arizona immigrants

Facebook Photo/Aliento

By Jessica Swarner

September 4, 2020

“I’m using all my emotion to create a change … to do something instead of just being afraid.” 

Jose Patiño can’t vote for president this year.  

He hasn’t ever been able to vote in the U.S since he’s not a citizen. 

But now, as the education and advocacy director for the Phoenix-based nonprofit Aliento, he’s using his voice to help others who do have the ability to make their votes count. 

The group launched an initiative Tuesday to get 25,000 people to the polls. Patino said they are starting with 50 volunteers, mostly high school students, and hope to grow that pool to several hundred. 

Patiño came to the U.S. at 6 years old and received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status in 2013, which prevented him from being deported and gave him other opportunities, like being able to get a driver’s license. 

RELATED: The Copper Courier’s Guide to Voting in Arizona in 2020

But that protection came under attack from President Donald Trump’s administration, which tried to end the DACA program in 2017. 

Diego Acevedo and Jael Camacho, two Phoenix high schoolers who are volunteering with Aliento, didn’t get the chance to apply for DACA as Patiño did. 

Acevedo and Camacho are 16 and 17 now, so not old enough to vote in November, but even when they come of age their citizenship status will still prevent them from being able to. 

For all of them, this election has huge ramifications for their futures. 

“It’s one of the biggest moments of my teenage years,” Acevedo told The Copper Courier. “It truly does decide the outcome of our future.” 

“This election has such gravity because it could go one way, we could have more protections and relief, possibly a pathway to citizenship if legislation passes through Congress,” Patino added. “It could go the opposite way where we can have more enforcement and we could possibly not be here the next four years, or our family wouldn’t be here. So for us, it’s really critical. It’s dire.” 

Taken For Granted

Acevedo and Camacho said it’s disheartening to know that voters have such power in their hands—like whether the boys will be able to drive or go to college in another state—and still many don’t use it. 

In the 2016 general election, only 55% of eligible voters in Arizona turned out. 

Acevedo said it’s frustrating that even though he cares about politics and is so directly impacted, he won’t be able to vote even when he’s 18.

He came to the U.S. from Mexico around age 2 and has essentially spent his whole life here. 

“One of the biggest rights that somebody that lives in this county has is not available for me,” he said. “It’s very heart-breaking.”

RELATED: Thousands of DACA Recipients Are Working On the Front Lines To Keep Us Safe From COVID-19

Camacho agreed. He also came to the U.S. from Mexico as an infant. 

“Knowing that I’ve been living here in the United States as well, not having the opportunity to cast my vote and elect leaders that I believe can change this country, it’s very difficult to deal with,” he said. 

While Patiño is more used to the reality of not being able to vote, it still stings when elections come around.

“It’s very frustrating. I’ve now gone through this multiple election cycles,” he said. “Sometimes I drive my friends to the polls because they’re like ‘Oh I don’t want to go,” and I’m like “I’ll take you.’”

The Fate of DACA

While many issues are at stake with this year’s election, for some the result is a matter of if they get to stay in the country they’ve known their whole lives or if they will be deported to an unfamiliar country.

Watching DACA take so many hits since Trump was elected has caused immigrants, including Patiño, much anxiety. 

“It’s reliving 2016 all over again, and even worse now because before a lot of people would assume that oh no, the administration’s not going to truly end the program,” he said. “And then you see the four years of, yeah, they’re trying to end it.” 

“I see, in a way, they’re trying to take your humanity away,” he added. 

For Acevedo and Camacho, it’s not about losing DACA protections—it’s about ever getting the chance to apply for them. 

The boys said when the Supreme Court threw out Trump’s legal challenge in June, they were elated. But when it soon became clear that the administration would still not accept new applicants, their hopes fell again. 

RELATED: DACA Recipients Celebrate Supreme Court Decision

Acevedo said the experience left him feeling “numb.” 

“With the recent news, it was really like waking up from a dream. You get the news, something that you’ve been waiting for like all your life,” he said. “You’re starting to think about all the things you are finally going to be able to do, go out of state for college, get your driver’s license and go to drive with your friends and finally live out the life you were promised when you came here. And then a couple weeks later, everything’s ripped away from you again.”

“You just get used to a routine of heartbreak and excitement that you just don’t know how to feel anymore,” he added. 

Camacho said he remembers being so excited to apply for DACA, thinking, “This is my chance. I would be able to conquer so many things that I wouldn’t have had if the DACA program didn’t exist.” 

Now he’s left wondering how many opportunities he will be able to take advantage of after high school compared to his peers. 

Fuel to the Fire

But despite the feelings of fear and hopelessness, the Aliento members are letting themselves withdraw. 

Instead, they’re using the urgency they feel to convince others how important their votes are. 

“I’m using all my emotion to create a change … to do something instead of just being afraid,” Acevedo said. 

Patiño said the volunteers are still in training before the initiative launches Tuesday. But they are feeling ready to help people register and find the information they need to cast their ballots. 

RELATED: Trump Says People Should Immigrate to the U.S. Legally. He’s Made It Nearly Impossible.

Each advocate had a similar plea to those who have the privilege of being able to vote this fall. 

Camacho asked voters to remember that even if they aren’t impacted by the election outcome, others’ entire futures depend on it. 

Patiño also asked others to keep immigrants in mind. “If you don’t want to vote for yourself, or for your friends, then vote for us,” he said. “Don’t waste that privilege, and use it, because some of us don’t have that and we would do so many things to get that.” 

And Acevedo pleaded with Americans to think of the big picture when deciding whether to vote. 

“If it’s not for you, do it for your neighbor. Or if it’s not for you, do it for the clerk you met at the store,” he said. “If it’s not for you, just do it for others and for the people who are in need, and for the minorities that are fighting for their family, the minorities that are fighting for their rights, the minorities that are fighting for their lives.”

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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