BY ANA DURAES PEIXOTO, WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY: TIFFANY RAWLS, LONG BEACH FORWARD FALL 2020 COMMUNICATIONS TEAM INTERNS, CSULB STUDENTS
As an international student, I find it difficult to talk about the elections in the U.S. It is so different from what I am used to in my home country of Brazil. While I am not eligible to vote here, the results still dictate how I live my life in this country.
Freedom is a word I had heard so many times before I even stepped foot in the United States.
When I look at the group of people ineligible to vote, I see people in very different circumstances. Some are undocumented, formerly incarcerated, and some may even be residents who are still waiting for citizenship. These people live and work in the United States. It is their home, but their country treats them as if they don't exist. When compared to them, I am incredibly privileged. Having a non-immigrant visa allows me to leave and return to the U.S. whenever I want, a kind of freedom many in this country don't have. Freedom is a word I had heard so many times before I even stepped foot in the United States. I heard it in what feels like every single American movie ever created and in the powerful speeches of politicians. After all, this is said to be the land of the free, which led me to think freedom was a right, but it isn't. Freedom is a privilege given to a select few. A foreigner like myself has more freedom than many people who have no other place to call home besides the United States of America.
In Brazil, voting is mandatory between the ages of 18 and 70.
In Brazil, voting is mandatory between the ages of 18 and 70. It is optional if you are 16, 17, or older than 70. As a child, my family would always take me with them to vote so that I could familiarize myself with the process before I was able to vote myself. When I turned 16, I registered to vote as I had just become eligible to do it. In a country where the voting process is both direct and mandatory, Brazil doesn't run into the issue of unequal representation. Of course, long-existing racial and economic inequality still leads to an abundance of white, affluent, and conservative politicians. Nevertheless, in practice, the vote of most eligible Brazilians was counted since missing an election can be a bit of an inconvenience. It requires a formal justification of absence, and if that is not provided, the person is required to pay a fee.
Despite my privileges, I am still at the mercy of the U.S. government. During the summer, ICE wanted to deport international students who were taking classes solely online. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, very few schools offered in-person courses due to safety concerns. The result would be 1.1 million students forced to pack their bags and return to their countries or face deportation. I always believed that my visa gave me enough privilege to feel somewhat comfortable and safe in this country. But I quickly realized students are just another pawn in the game of politics. After years of complying with every requirement and paying every fee to keep my visa, everything I signed up for was thrown out the window by new rules created overnight. Eventually, the absurdity of the situation led to the revoking of these new policies, not because schools cared about their international students, but because big and powerful universities could not survive a pandemic without the money they received from international students.
If you are eligible to vote, you have more power than you think.
If you are eligible to vote, you have more power than you think. You have the power to change your community, your life, and the lives of the people around you who are unable to vote. California's likely voters are still mostly white, older, and conservative, which does not match our younger and diverse population.
However, the solution to issues regarding immigration does not rely solely on the elections. The purpose of ICE is already well ingrained; to target and terrorize the undocumented community. It won't change as quickly by merely changing administrations, but it might change if collective action puts this agency and the government under pressure. I got involved with the Long Beach Community Defense Network (CDN) through my internship with Long Beach Forward. One of CDN's most remarkable accomplishments this year was releasing a Long Beach resident named Nicolás from Adelanto. In early March, Nicolás and his family walked from their house to their car when ICE approached and arrested Nicolás. In June, after three months of being detained at Adelanto, Nicolás returned to his family after the CDN raised enough funds to pay for his bailout.
"Nicolás and his family walked from their house to their car when ICE approached and arrested Nicolás. In June, after three months of being detained at Adelanto, Nicolás returned to his family after the CDN raised enough funds to pay for his bailout."
It was moving to listen to Nicolás speak about his experience at Adelanto. He felt complete despair when ICE arrested him, only to begin feeling some hope upon realizing that people were fighting for him, giving support to his family, and providing him with free legal representation. Since Nicolás is the head of his household, his partner would have been left as a single mom, unable to sustain herself and her children. In the end, it would take a $23,000 bailout to free Nicolás, a price that is unusually high in these cases.
Nonetheless, the many organizations that fight to protect the rights of our undocumented community managed to raise every penny of the $23,000 amount. Grassroots donations are the easiest way to help the community. The CDN alone raised $8,000 from donors in the local community. Whether the donation is big or small, it does not matter. What matters is donating what you can because even the smallest amount can make a big difference. If you cannot afford to donate, simply sharing a fundraiser with others can go a long way. Nicolás’ case made me realize that change is indeed possible, and it can happen quicker than you think as a result of collective action and community activism.
"Change is indeed possible, and it can happen quicker than you think as a result of collective action and community activism."
There are multiple ways to get involved with initiatives like the Community Defense Network. For example, you can:
Donate to the Long Beach Liberation Fund www.gofundme.com/f/lb-liberates
Become a CDN Dispatcher, a volunteer position where you operate the CDN’s emergency hotline, and be the first point of contact to receive information on local ICE activity. To sign up, email email@example.com or fill out this form.
Become a CDN Observer and be a first responder to arrive at a location of suspected ICE activity to document, investigate and confirm if ICE is present. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Help people more directly by joining the accompaniment teams, which assist the families with loved ones detained by ICE with any extra fundraising, advocacy, emotional support, etc. For more information, please visit https://www.sanctuarylb.com/
If you are an attorney, consider offering legal services to immigrants facing deportation.
And most importantly, share the hotline number (562) 269-1083 - This is the most important resource to report any ICE activity in your community.
"Share the hotline number (562) 269-1083."
Any of these actions can make a difference in the community. The power of young BIPOC does extend past the realm of voting. With this strength and unity, the world will change into the better place humanity deserves. Change that will hopefully be everlasting.