Three days before Election Day, Isabel Valencia rang a doorbell on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona. When there was no answer, she glanced at her partner, Fausto Gara, and rang again. After a minute, Roger Davila answered the door.
In Spanish, Valencia immediately launched into an introduction that she had made hundreds of times since Sept. 8: she works for a faith-based organization; she hopes you will vote on Nov. 6; and please join thousands of others in telling Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would grant deportation deferral and temporary work permits to qualifiying illegal residents.
By 2:30 p.m., Valencia and Gara had already visited the homes of nearly 50 people urging them to get to the polls.
But on Election Day, neither would be able to take their own advice.
As an undocumented immigrant, Valencia cannot vote. However, she has found a way to make her voice heard. With help from 12 other volunteers that she and her co-worker Lucy Muy have recruited and trained, she has made hundreds of phone calls and home visits urging registered voters in Corona, East Elmhurst and Rego Park to make it to the polling station on Nov. 6.
“I’m doing this to motivate my Latino community to support us,” Valencia said.
By recruiting through church groups, the nonprofit Queens Congregations United for Action hired Valencia and Muy as organizers for 15 hours a week and equipped them with a subscription to the Voter Action Network, a database of registered voters that is geared towards helping Democratic campaigns and progressive causes.
Using the database, Valencia and her team find Latino voters who have voted in previous elections. They also help voters find their polling place and before the deadline passed on Oct. 12, they registered voters.
QCUA is a member of the faith-based nonprofit PICO National Network, which trains congregations to be advocates and community organizers. PICO is supporting similar initiatives in communities across the United States.
In Queens County, 65 percent of the almost 1.2 million registered voters are registered Democrats, according to the New York State Board of Elections. Though the race will likely be a landslide in this district, Joseph McKeller, the executive director of QCUA, says that what’s at stake is that elected officials see that Latino voters are paying attention.
“It doesn’t look good to politicians when only 20 percent of registered Latinos are voting,” McKeller says. “It doesn’t help in making the case that families in the communities need more resources or need economic investment.”
In 2008, 640,137 out of more than two million Queens residents — 3.5 percent —voted in the general election, according to the BOE.
The DREAM Act failed in 2009 and was reintroduced in 2011, but no legislative action has been taken since then.
Then on June 15, President Obama took the issue into his own hands and issued a policy directive stating almost identical qualifications and two-year deportation deferrals.
Valencia may never be a voter, but she hopes that some day she will earn a green card. On Sept. 6, she applied for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action program. She will hear whether or not her application was accepted within the month.
Valencia and Muy also ask every voter they encounter if he or she will be a “dream voter,” or a supporter of the DREAM Act. The team then fills out a postcard declaring support for the DREAM Act for every “dreamer,” which PICO will send to Congress. By noon on Saturday they had collected 1,341 postcards.
Valencia is determined to motivate Latino Americans to support her cause, one voter at a time.
“I was saddened to see that we got close but not there,” Davila says of the DREAM Act from his doorway. That’s Valencia’s cue to take off her gloves and start vigorously filling out a postcard.
“Myself, I’ve been waiting for 14 years,” Valencia says. “We just want to work.”