Building the Power of Immigrants and Youth of Color

Building the Power of Immigrants and Youth of Color

Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) - Bay Area has spent the last several years building the political power of immigrant and youth voters with the aim of shifting the political landscape in the region and across the state. In 2018, we doubled down on our commitment to building this political muscle by registering more than fifteen thousand new immigrant and youth voters, contacting a hundred and sixty thousand already-registered voters, and mobilizing more than two hundred volunteers. In the 2018 midterm elections, our efforts helped generate one of the highest turnouts in state history for a midterm and resulted in the passage of critical local and state ballot measures, as well as the defeat of House members opposed to immigrant rights. 

One of SIREN's youth leaders, Miguel, participated in phone banking and door-to-door canvassing of Spanish-speaking voters. Although Miguel and his family cannot vote because of their immigration status, the day after the election he told us: "The community was my voice at the polls yesterday. Immigrants and youth came out and demonstrated our power in Northern California and the Central Valley. Through our voting power, we are passing policies in our state and region that are impacting our families, and we will carry our momentum into 2019 to fight for immigrant rights and protections for immigrant youth."

While SIREN doesn't engage voters on behalf of specific candidates, we heard the mounting frustration from voters over the lack of action on immigrants' rights. Our volunteers made more than eighty thousand phone calls to voters in House Districts 10 and 21, which are represented by Rep. Jeff Denham (R) and Rep. David Valadao (R), and the number-one issue immigrant voters wanted to talk about was the fact that Congress wasn't doing enough for immigrants. From not passing a clean DREAM Act to not pushing back against President Trump's executive orders restricting immigration, immigrant voters shared their disapproval of the empty promises of their congressional representatives. Not surprisingly, Dunham and Valadao both lost.

As we head into 2019, we have our work cut out for us. In 2018, SIREN opened an office in Fresno and established our immigration legal services, community organizing, policy advocacy, and voter engagement with Central Valley immigrant and youth voters. We know we have the political power and leverage to move Congress on issues like a clean DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. And through our base-building work, we've built an infrastructure for and secured the trust of the community to lead outreach efforts focused on the 2020 census. It's critical that we overcome the many challenges and barriers to an accurate count and ensure that immigrant communities receive their fair share of funding. 

Beyond the census, we have momentum and the capacity heading into the 2020 elections to have an even greater impact. When we launched our campaign a few years ago, immigrant community leaders dubbed it "Votar Para Ganar" (Vote to Win), because that is our goal. With  2019 approaching, we are gearing up to win even bigger victories for immigrant and refugee communities in the state and to create a more welcoming California for years to come.

Maricela Gutiérrez is the executive director of Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN), a nonprofit organization serving Northern and Central California that has worked on immigrant and refugee rights issues for more than thirty years. She was born and raised in the Central Valley. 

FEATURED COMMENTARY AND OPINION

August 21, 2018