Why I  —  And 11 Million Americans  —  Aren’t Voting

Correction: I can’t vote.
Julián Gustavo Gómez outside the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., on June 23, 2016.
Julián Gustavo Gómez outside the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., on June 23, 2016.

This piece originally appeared on the Wizard Activist for the Harry Potter Alliance’s Wizard Rock the Vote campaign.

I am a 24-year-old American who will be profoundly affected by the 2016 election, and I’m not going to vote. Correction: I can’t vote. I’m one of the estimated 11 million undocumented Americans living in the United States.

In an election year that has centered around the issue of immigration, it can be despairing to not be able to partake in the voting process that will decide my fate. Of course, I understand I must first “earn” my citizenship before I earn the right to vote — but what exactly does it mean to earn one’s citizenship? Earning your citizenship is not a concept native-born Americans are asked to grapple with.

This is why Define American is encouraging everyone, regardless of their citizenship status, to take a citizenship pledge and think about what citizenship really means. Is it a piece of paper? Or is it something you do, ideals you hold, a civic duty to carry out?

Here’s how undocumented Americans answered that question:

As far as I can tell, I have done everything within my power to “earn” my citizenship. I’ve lived in the United States since I was one-and-a-half years old and I care deeply about this country — it’s my home. I even graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. I am currently in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives me a two-year temporary deferral from deportation and work authorization. I’ve been working and paying thousands of dollars in income tax alone since receiving DACA in 2013. I am happy to do it, because I want to contribute to public education, infrastructure, science and medical research, veterans, and all the other important areas my tax dollars fund.

I’m not alone. Undocumented Americans pay $11.64 billion annually in state and local taxes and potentially billions more in income tax.* All this to say, undocumented Americans are contributing billions of dollars annually to fund many programs we are not eligible for due to our status.

I have been leading the Define American College Chapters program since we launched it in October of last year with the mission to shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship on campuses and local communities around the country. The center of the work we do at Define American and with our chapters focuses on bringing every American into this conversation, regardless of their political affiliation. With the national political climate becoming more and more divided, it’s crucial that our chapter members are engaging peers they may not normally share beliefs with to find common ground on how we define American. The college students leading Define American initiatives on their campuses are the future of this country, the majority of American millennials believe in a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.* This is not a partisan issue — it’s a human and civil rights issue.

There are over 10 million undocumented Americans of voting age like myself who want nothing more than to be given a chance to fully be a part of this country.* We can’t vote, but that doesn’t mean our voices don’t matter. There are 16.6 million Americans who live in a “mixed-status” family, meaning at least one member of the family is undocumented.* I am in a mixed-status family; I may not be able to vote, but many of my family members can.

It’s time to truly face the facts: voter disenfranchisement is a major issue in the United States, but it’s not going to change our country’s demographics from shifting. According to Pew Research Center, by 2055, non-Hispanic white Americans will constitute less than half of the population, meaning no racial or ethnic group will have a majority.

6.1 million Americans are banned from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses.* 1 in 13 black adults are disenfranchised due to these laws, including up to 40% of black men in certain states that permanently disenfranchise formerly incarcerated persons.*

This means the estimated number of undocumented Americans and incarcerated citizens who cannot vote makeup about 7% of the voting age population within the United States, according to U.S. Census data. That’s more than the entire population of the key battleground states of Nevada, Iowa, and North Carolina combined.

Together with the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, stringent voter ID laws, and many other forms of voter disenfranchisement across the United States, it continues to be incredibly important to be aware of your power and responsibility as a citizen.

I am writing this piece because I believe wholeheartedly in the Harry Potter Alliance’s Wizard Rock the Vote campaign to educate voters and get more Americans to fully engage in our democracy. The stakes of this election are high, so if you are eligible to vote, I implore you to register to vote, get out and vote on November 8th or vote early, and use your vote to fight for those of us who can’t.