Meet the Immigrants Passionate About the 2016 Election, Even Though They Can't Vote

Five immigrants—who are supporting Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Bush, and Cruz, respectively—told us how they see their role in the 2016 presidential elections.

by Ted Hesson
Mar 21 2016, 9:23pm

Ellie Perez (immediately left of the Hillary sign) crossed the border illegally when she was a child, and is now a prominent voice in Hillary Clinton's campaign. Photo courtesy of Ellie Perez.

The focus of 2016 presidential election shifts to Arizona this week, home to one of the most antagonistic immigration debates in the country. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have comfortable leads in the state entering their respective primary contests on Tuesday, while Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz hope for upset victories. John Kasich will be lingering around, too.

Since immigration plays such a huge role in the border state—remember, this is the home of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Tent City—we decided to speak with immigrants about who they support in the Republican and Democrat primaries. Most of the interviewees aren't American citizens, and can't vote in the election, but many of them see themselves as full participants in the American political machine, whether in volunteering for campaigns or influencing their peers who can vote. Here, they explain who they're supporting and how much immigration policy plays into their view of American politics. These interviews have been edited for clarity, length, and grammar.

The "Anchor Baby" Who Supports Donald Trump

Photo courtesy of Danda Anthis

Danda Anthis grew up on the Mexican side of the border in Caborca, Sonora. The city is located about four hours away from Tucson, Arizona, where she lives now with her husband and two children. Anthis, a 41-year-old technical assistant at a mining company, is a US citizen only on a technicality—her mother crossed the border for medical treatment while she was carrying her and eventually gave birth in Arizona. She spent her childhood in Caborca and Mexico City before moving to Arizona at age 20.Anthis recognizes the irony in being a Republican and an "anchor baby," but she thinks Donald Trump's policies—including his view on immigration—have merit.

VICE: Given your background, why do you support Donald Trump?
Danda Anthis: At first he was loud and noisy, but I have read his biography, I have done some research and I can tell you this man is actually pretty great. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke. It seems like, based on what he has done with his businesses, he's very smart. And that's what we need. Political correctness is obviously not taking us anywhere at this point.

I think for the last seven or eight years, things are just going downhill. It is very sad. A lot of people don't see it. I see it, I do grocery shopping. I see that I spend more money on groceries than what I bring home. It's crazy, it's really crazy. I'm counting one penny, I'm counting the other penny. I cover one hole and I open the other one. It's just bad.

As someone who grew up in Mexico, do Trump's immigration views bother you? How about the wall?
Seriously, what's wrong with the wall? We all have fences around our houses, we all lock our doors. One of my aunts who lives in Mexico City, she's like, "Oh, but it's a wall, it's going to divide us." And then I remember being little and being told, "Fuck the gringo." And I'm thinking, when have we been close to them? And now you're talking about being united to the US when we have never been. I was never taught that the gringo was my friend, it was the other way around. The gringo was going to screw me, so fuck the gringo. It's so hypocritical. It's crazy, it annoys me so much, you have no idea.

You brought your brother from Mexico to the US, but he was eventually deported. What happened?
I have a brother who needed my help, and with my money, I actually helped him out to cross the border. He didn't have papers, but I felt that was my responsibility, to help him out and bring him here. And that's what I did. Anyway, with that in mind, he came in with his visa, but obviously his visa expired and we were planning to get him legal [immigration status]. Unfortunately, that didn't work out and he got in trouble, and he was actually deported.

I had to help him because he's my brother, but at the same time, I feel that I have principles. If I go back to Mexico right now myself, I have to ask for permission to go into the country. So it's not like here, where everything is kind of forgiven and forgotten. At least that's the way I see it right now.

Are you out campaigning?
If they need me in any shape, way, or form. I will definitely help out. I work for a mining consulting company and they make fun of me because I get very passionate.

The Undocumented Bernie Sanders Supporter

Photo by Steve Pavey, courtesy of Erika Andiola

Erika Andiola came to Arizona when she was 11 years old, as her mother fled an abusive relationship in the Mexican state of Durango. They crossed the border without authorization and began living as undocumented immigrants in Mesa, Arizona. In the last decade, the 28-year-old Andiola has been a passionate fighter for immigrant rights. She was a key player among the activists who pressed Obama to grant deportation relief to young undocumented immigrants, which he did in 2012 with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She's currently the national press secretary for Latino outreach on Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

VICE: You're not a citizen, so you can't vote—but you're very involved in the Sanders campaign. How did you get interested in working on that?
Erika Andiola:I think it was my understanding of the political system. When we started pushing for the different changes that we wanted in immigration, in the beginning we were very naive. We were following everything that the DC organizations and establishment were telling us to do. They would just grab us, like, "Here, tell your story. Push for immigration reform, push for comprehensive immigration reform." And we were there, being used by many of these people. Little by little, we started realizing that there wasn't really a good strategy, there wasn't really a way to pass immigration reform. It was more for the Democratic establishment to continue to use us.

The first time I heard Bernie Sanders, I was drawn to the way that he was talking about the change in the political system that we needed, going against the establishment politics that we have been playing for many years. I decided to contact them and I said, "I want to help. I want to help to do whatever I can to get that message out there, that we're tired of it." That we need to fix the system first, in order for us to fix the problems that we have in this country.

Photo courtesy of Erika Andiola

Are your family members supporting any of the presidential candidates?
My siblings and my mom, they can't vote. But my aunt and two of my uncles can vote and I've convinced them—they're going to vote for Bernie. And my mom actually is right now here in the office making phone calls. She's been phone banking for a couple of days now for Bernie. My entire family is very supportive.

My younger, 20-year-old brother is the one that got me into Bernie. I saw him watching YouTube videos of Bernie Sanders, as if it was a reality show or something. It was kind of cool to see him so involved, just being involved in civics. I started wondering, Who is this guy and why is my brother so passionate about him? I always tell him, it was really him who got me a lot more into Bernie. He's a DACA recipient.

The Dreamer Campaigning for Hillary Clinton

Photo courtesy of Ellie Perez

Ellie Perez has only known one home—Phoenix, Arizona. Although she was born in Mexico, her mother brought her and her sisters across the border when Ellie was just four years old. When she reached high school, she realized she didn't have a Social Security number, a discovery that eventually led to the revelation that she was living in the US without legal status. Perez, now 25, is enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows her to work on the staff of Kate Gallego, the vice mayor of the City of Phoenix.

VICE: You realized you were undocumented in high school. What did that mean for your life after graduation?
Ellie Perez: I graduated high school in 2009. Sometimes it still makes me pretty bummed out because on graduation night, I had worked so hard for four years to graduate, but then I knew that was it. And then the next day I had to go work with my mom as a house cleaner. I couldn't afford college because Arizona had passed a law where if you were undocumented, you had to pay three times what a resident was paying, even if you lived here your whole life.

In 2012, when President Obama gave deferred action, I remember that day. I had my cell phone and I got a CNN update. I was about to turn 22 and I still shared a room with my little sister. I remember jumping from my bed to her bed, yelling, "We can go to school!" That's all I cared about.

Why did you decide to back Hillary Clinton?
I actually was a Hillary person in 2008. I had been infatuated by the idea of Hillary Clinton because to me she seemed like a great woman who opened up all of these doors for other women and was truly fighting for equality. I was really sad when she lost the primary.

This year, with the primary, I don't think there was really a second where I doubted who I was going to support. I just think that all of her years of experience, that to me is huge. All of the coalitions that she can build and pull together are important to me. I think I know enough about where we are politically to understand that where Congress is right now, we're not going to do anything by ourselves. The Democratic Party is not going to pull it off by ourselves, unless we gain the majority back. But if we don't, we're going to have to work with the other side, we're going to have to find common ground.

Do you see Clinton being able to pass an immigration reform bill?
I really think it is possible, but I think it will take a lot of work. And it will definitely be something that you pass and you work on. You pass and you fix as the glitches come through. I definitely think that it can happen, but that it won't be perfect. And it's scary to say that, because I think it almost sounds like a defeatist attitude, but I feel it's a realistic attitude.

The International Student Who Supported Jeb Bush

Photo courtesy of Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri yearned to study political science, but realized that would never be possible in his native Iran, where he says the subject tends to be limited to how Islam defines politics. Instead, he enrolled in Arizona State University, where the 26-year-old is working on a bachelor's degree in political science and economics. He's active in US politics and was a strong supporter of Jeb Bush before his campaign fizzled out. Now, he's hoping for a contested convention.

VICE: What attracted you to Jeb Bush as a political figure?
Shay Khatiri: I'm into international relations and foreign policy. As a foreign policy person, I saw a lot of parallels between my view of the world and Governor Bush's view of the world, how he saw that active American leadership at the global stage was necessary. I am planning on staying in the United States after I graduate, so the domestic issues of this campaign matter to me as much as any other American. But as a foreigner, at least for now, anything that happens in the United States, whether regarding foreign policy or economy, matters to the rest of the world. You could see that the market crash of 2007 and '08 changed the economy of the world and we had a global recession and a global financial crisis.

Why did you choose to leave Iran and come the United States?
Honestly, life in Iran is very frustrating. I was raised by parents who have very Western views on life, very liberal views on life. My father was educated in Germany. And to be raised with that mentality—that Western, liberal mentality—and have to live in a conservative society, that was very difficult. I was desperate to leave Iran. My parents are still there.

I wanted to come to the US because I always saw the United States as a land of opportunity and as a nation of immigrants, which actually valued and appreciated immigration. That's also one of the important reasons that I supported Governor Bush. His policy about immigration reform, about legal immigration really resonated with me—that we need to liberalize immigration more and to admit more immigrants, and to get rid of chain migration.

Photo courtesy of Shay Khatiri

Are you willing to support any other candidates now that Bush is out?
Right now, I'm waiting for the GOP convention. I'm really hoping it's a contested convention, so a candidate who is not right now in the race would emerge as the nominee. Somebody like Mitt Romney, hopefully. Or maybe Governor Bush himself. You never know.

The Immigrant Adoptee Volunteering for Cruz

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Madrigal

Jonathan Madrigal, 31, was adopted from Costa Rica by parents who live in Traverse City, Michigan. Now, he studies political science at Arizona State University. He's on a student visa, but hopes he'll find a more permanent way to stay in the US after graduation. Jonathan was a Marco Rubio supporter, but now that he's dropped out of the race, he's shifting his support to Ted Cruz.

VICE: You were supporting Marco Rubio until he dropped out of the race. How did you feel about his views on immigration?
Jonathan Madrigal: One of things that I like about Rubio is that he knew the problem. The only way you can become legal in the United States is if you have family here, if you have a company that comes and hires you, or if you marry someone. He understood those things.

But there's got to be another way. All these international students that are coming in here. How can we use those international students? I put over $100,000 into school. When I say "me," it's me and my parents, over $100,000. So we grow the economy, we help out. So it's kind of a shame that there's not a program that could be used for people like us.

He was very clear in understanding the problem. Maybe he didn't have the greatest solutions or even a solution itself, but he really understood the issue and the problem. Cruz doesn't really have that. That's one of the things that is really kind of bothering me. It's preventing me to really get fully in his camp.

Did you always consider yourself a conservative?
No, actually. Latin America is very anti-Republican, so I grew up as anti-Republican. I knew that was the evil word. I had no idea about politics, but I knew that I didn't like Bush. But later on you kind of educate yourself a little more and you grow up and you understand a little more. I was just 17 years old, so I had no idea.

One of the things that got me really mad was when I started looking into both parties. And I hated how Democrats used the Latino vote, how they used the black vote. They really used it for their own advantage. They use it, but they don't so anything to help us out. They keep us in the bottom, so they can use it next season.

So you decided you liked the Republican Party better, on the whole?
I felt like the Republican Party would make you into an entrepreneur. "These are the tools you get. I'm not going to give you the fish, I'm going to teach you how to fish." I kind of like that attitude, maybe because I'm coming from a socialist country. I don't want the free stuff. Teach me how I can become a millionaire, how can I become this, how can I become that. Don't tell me that I'm a minority that's always going to stay in the bottom.

If Trump or Cruz gets the nomination, will you support them?
Trump is making it really hard for me to even think about it. But I think I can definitely do it for Cruz. Otherwise, I'll stay quiet, like, "Oh, I'm not supporting anyone." I'll be volunteering for Cruz. And my mom might help me, too. So she's going to go and volunteer for Cruz, even though, again, that is not her first choice. Rubio is her first choice, too.

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