Nov 1, 2020 - News

Op-Ed: I’m an immigrant who just voted in my first presidential election. What a powerful experience it was



Editor’s note: This is an unsolicited opinion piece. We’ll occasionally run them from guest authors from the community who view current issues through different lenses. Today’s comes from Alba Sanchez, an immigrant from Costa Rica who this year is voting for president for the first time.

This year, I voted in my first presidential election. It’s a responsibility I long dreamt about.

More than a country, America is a promise. And like many who came before me, in 2001, I moved to America from Costa Rica in pursuit of that promise. It’s a promise that’s persisted over generations and says that America is a welcoming land, with an abundance of opportunity and hopes of a better future. This is a promise that is debated on, fought over, and yes — voted on.

With my vote, I have the power to choose a different future for America. One where more people are welcomed with open arms, one where families are allowed to be together, and one where immigrants are given the same respect and opportunities as anybody else.

I proudly work as the manager at a Charlotte-based nonprofit, the Latin American Coalition, tasked with helping new immigrants settle in North Carolina. Years ago, I used to see immigrants come to my office filled with hope of a better life and eager to work in Charlotte. I used to see asylum seekers escaping persecution of all types receive a warm welcome from a nation that recognized their struggles, a nation built on their legacy.

Now, I see fear and anxiety, as people seeking safe harbor are denied a chance to even make a case for themselves.

The asylum seekers that come through my door each day already face dim prospects in Charlotte’s immigration court, their cases being denied 88 percent of the time compared to the 56 percent of denials nationwide.

Now they are facing an even more devastating hurdle at the border. Recently, the administration gutted asylum protections for Central Americans fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, with heartbreaking consequences that I have seen firsthand through my work. We work to provide people with the resources needed to succeed, a community to belong to in Charlotte. But now, they aren’t even being given the opportunity.

Alba Sanchez

These anti-immigrant attacks are not new. Last fall, the president signed a proclamation to deny visas to immigrants who cannot afford health insurance or medical costs, a move that would ban two-thirds of legal immigrants. This spring, he went even further, barring foreign workers from coming to the United States. This unthinkable move not only keeps families apart, it hurts our local economy, primarily in industries like banking, hospitality, and manufacturing that depend on immigrant workers. And in a disturbing new development, the administration is now citing Covid-19 risks as a reason to outright ban asylum seekers from seeking refuge.

The trauma these brave families go through is already unimaginable. Our welcome center works to empower immigrants, particularly, women, through victim assistance and resources that help them find stability. For our government to be complicit in that victimization is beyond unacceptable.

This is simply not the America that I know. And it’s not the country that many of our parents, our grandparents, and our great-grandparents came to this land for. America is a nation that values working families and the contributions that they make to our society.

We still have a chance to get back to that American promise.

With our vote, every one of us has the responsibility of helping shape the American promise and dictate who it is for. When I voted early this month, I brought with me to the voting booth the stories of the people that I welcome through the doors of my center, my own personal journey in this country that I call home, and my hopes for a better, brighter future for everyone.

Every vote counts in this election. I’ve waited long enough to finally be able to cast mine — and this year — I voted for my son and my family, for families all across the country, and to restore America’s promise.

Alba Sanchez is a manager at a Charlotte-based immigration nonprofit where she helps immigrant families participate in the civic, economic, and cultural life of North Carolina.

Op-ed submissions: Have a perspective on an issue that goes beyond the standard hot take or Facebook rant? Or unexpected personal insight into a subject that could help our readers understand it better? If you’d like to submit an op-ed for consideration (no more than 800 words), email it to [email protected]. We’re unable to respond to all submissions, but if yours has been accepted we’ll notify you and work with you through edits.


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