After the presidential race was called for Joe Biden, Lalo Montoya finally felt like he could buy a new couch.
“I had resisted buying a couch, because I didn’t know I was gonna be in this country,” he told Nevada Public Radio’s State of Nevada. “Despite feeling and being American in every way except on paper.”
Montoya is political director for Make the Road Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for immigrants and the state’s Latinx residents. He’s also one of many immigrants in the state who say they are relieved by the outcome of the presidential election — and the end of Trump-era policies they say targeted their communities.
Montoya is a recipient of protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The Obama-era immigration policy temporarily protects people who were brought to the United States as children from deportation. To qualify, they must pass a background check and have a high school diploma or be currently enrolled in school.
Montoya was brought to the U.S. illegally when he was 2 years old and didn’t learn about his undocumented status until he was in high school.
"It's been very challenging, the past four years with the Trump administration," he said.
Montoya’s 11-year-old daughter was excited, too. As soon as the Associated Press called the election for Biden, she texted him, "You can stay now daddy. I'm so happy you can stay."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 20% of Nevada’s population is foreign-born. Noah Montague works with some of those Nevadans as an immigration specialist for non-profit Washoe Legal Services.
Montague says they saw a spike in people looking for legal advice after 2016.
“There was really a fear under President Trump,” he said.
According to a recent Pew study, more than 200,000 undocumented immigrants live and work in Nevada. About two-thirds of them come from Mexico.
Montague cautioned that political opinions vary within Latinx communities, but in general, his clients are happy with the election results.
“Most people were very nervous prior to the election and are, for the most part, relatively relieved that Joe Biden is president-elect,” he said.
Prince Saruhan also welcomed the news of Biden’s victory, but not because he was facing uncertainty with his own status. Saruhan was born in the Philippines and grew up in Reno. In 2008, he became a U.S. citizen, so he was safe from deportation.
“With Biden, obviously I should be happy. And I am,” he said. “But I am also excited to just see what’s next.”
Saruhan says some of his relatives are undocumented immigrants. He rejects the Trump administration’s policies, including its unsuccessful efforts to remove DACA protections.
“It’s despicable how they’re doing this to people who grew up in America,” he said.
Saruhan voted for Biden. But he also met many Filipino-Americans who support Trump. And he said he expects he’ll need to keep fighting for reform under the new administration.
That’s because immigration advocates have criticized Obama for his “felons, not families” program, which was presented as a way to prioritize deportations of immigrants with violent criminal records. In practice, they say, the Obama administration deported more than a million people with no criminal history at all — and separated families in the process.
Ultimately, Saruhan says Nevada’s growing immigrant population — and their U.S.-born children — will help determine the state’s future. As a volunteer with the Bernie Sanders campaign, he worked hard to engage with that new generation of voters.
“I knocked on doors where the citizen in the house is an 18-year-old kid,” he said.
According to Lalo Montoya, COVID-19 has revealed Nevada’s lack of a social safety net. The Latinx community has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, both in terms of public health and economic stability.
"I think moving forward, for us to see real change, we're going to have to invest in the Latinx community, ensure that they're engaged, that they're at the table when it comes to these important discussions around education and health," he said.
But with Biden in the White House, he’s feeling more optimistic that change is possible.
“What we see now is we are changing the course of this country,” he said.
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