LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — For nearly a month now, Estefania Pineda’s father has been held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a facility in California.
“He had an altercation with an authority. Not that he did anything wrong or anything, but he was just deported,” she told ThinkProgress on the eve of the midterm elections. “There was not really much we could do about it.”
Searching for something to do, Pineda, 19, began phone banking with a local group that offers nonpartisan information to immigrants about voting registration and how to cast their ballot Tuesday.
“I feel like I had a necessity to get involved and not act like it’s in the background, because it affects me directly and it always has affected my directly. I just recently started paying attention,” she said Monday night.”
As Election Day drew near, Democrats across the country were advised to focus on health care instead of immigration, while President Trump and his allies have used a caravan of immigrants from Latin America headed toward the United States hoping to seek asylum to stoke racist fears.
But for Pineda — and for her fellow phone banker Kevin Hernandez, also 19 — progressive immigration reform tops their list of political priorities. The two first-time voters told ThinkProgress Monday that they’re voting, quite literally, for their lives.
Hernandez’s girlfriend is undocumented, and meeting her, he said, opened his eyes to what many other people in his community are dealing with.
“I didn’t realize what was really happening to my culture or happening within my family until I decided to get to know her more [and] what her story was, I just kind of took myself and [had] a reality check,” he said Monday during a break from phone banking.
“Like, this is not just her, like, this is my mom, this is my dad, this is all my uncles and aunts that have come over, and she just made me realize, like, wow, I need to be fighting for this.”
This year marks the first time Pineda and Hernandez will cast their ballots, and both said they can’t understand why some other young people are not planning to vote.
“When I talk to people my age and I’m like, ‘Hey, are you gonna vote?’ they’re like, ‘Why? Why am I gonna vote?’” Pineda said. “And I’m like, ‘Why not vote?’ You are gonna be affected by these things, now or in the future, and you’re not paying attention and you should.”
Hernandez echoed Pineda, saying that recently, one of his good friends told him he doesn’t plan to vote, which “ticked [him] off,” he said Monday.
“I’m really close friends with him and we both come from Hispanic cultures,” he said, “and I’m like, ‘Dude, do you not see what’s happening? Do you not see what’s happening to our friends? Your parents? My parents? This is us, bro. Like, this is our community. You have the right to go vote. Why don’t you go do that?’”
In the days leading up to Election Day, these two first-time voters have been phone banking up to five hours a day, hoping their efforts will protect their loved ones.
“Everyone deserves happiness,” Hernandez said, growing as passionate as he had been all evening.
“Everyone deserves to be with their families, because when you see, like, kids — not grown people, kids — getting taken away from their mom and their dad. How does that make sense? That seems like Hitler stuff.”