PHOENIX—The deadly heat wave that hit Arizona last summer didn't stop the voter-registration drive.
In 118º temperatures—the kind that makes it feel like your sneakers are melting to the sidewalk— canvassers stood in front of supermarkets, theaters, carwashes, and everywhere else they could flag people down with registration cards.
For the Latinx canvassers in Arizona, the commitment to registering voters is deeply personal. They grew up in the state where legislators passed the country's most anti-immigrant legislation in the past decade, and they've endured the unabashed racism of Sheriff Joe Arpaio—a man who gets his kicks by parading chained immigrants through town.
“My mom is my motivation every day,” canvasser Irma Maldonado, 18, told me last weekend, moments before she went door-knocking to remind voters about the importance of voting this election. She was joined by two dozens canvassers, all but one of them is Latinx.
Maldonado has lived through the threat of a deportation force the type Donald Trump has promised, and would potentially be stripped of her citizenship if a Trump presidency were to revoke birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. In short, she is precisely the kind of people Trump has campaigned against in his angry bid for the presidency.
Maldonado was born in New Mexico, but had to move to Mexico at age 14 when her mother self-deported. Her mother had received three different deportation orders, but immigration officers never removed her from the country—even when she presented herself for deportation. Tired of living in limbo in the U.S., she eventually self-deported to Mexico, bringing Maldonado and her younger brother with her.
Now a young adult, Maldonado is back living in the U.S. for her first election. She voted early and is encouraging others to do the same. Voting groups here in Arizona say voting early is a good way to avoid long lines on Election Day, and avoid potential voter suppression at the polls.
“It was really exciting getting to vote. I thought it was super important,” Maldonado said.
But given everything that's at stake in this election, voting isn't enough for people like Maldonado. So she's canvassing to convince other people who look like her to register and vote as well.
“I’m out there because I know how these laws affected me and I know how it could affect other people's futures,” Maldonado told me.
She says she was angry at her mother and the system that forced her family to self-deport to Mexico. But she's turning that frustration into motivation to brave the desert heat for the sake of her community. Maldonado knows she can make a difference in Arizona. It’s a winnable fight.
Of the 989,000 eligible Latinx voters in the state, only 516,000 registered to vote in the 2012. And of them, only 400,000 Latinx voters actually cast a ballot in 2012, according to an analysis by Latino Decisions. So Maldonado and the other canvassers know that there's a massive and dormant group of Latinx voters who can tip the scales in Arizona if they come out in big numbers on Election Day.
Maldona started organizing with local immigrant rights groups in Phoenix after her older sister suggested she attend a meeting.
Up until the voter registration deadline she was working with a group called Arizona Center Empowerment, which is part of an effort that this year has registered more than 150,000 voters in Arizona, the majority of which are Latinx and people of color. It's part of a larger coalition called One Arizona, which groups 14 grassroots organizations that came together to fight the state's anti-immigration legislation.
Statistically, most Latinx in Arizona tend to vote for Democrats. Latinx voters in Arizona voted for Obama by 74% in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
And there are tens of thousands of Latinx in Arizona who, like Maldonado, are turning 18 or about to. Maldonado was born in 1998, when an estimated 5% of babies in the U.S. were born to at least one undocumented parent. That's about 190,000 children born into mixed-status families who have become eligible vote this year.
The percentage of children born to undocumented parents peaked in 2007, when there were an estimated 370,000 children born to undocumented parents, according to the Pew Research Center, which analyzed Census data and birth statistics from the Center for Disease Control.
If the children of the deported are able to channel their frustrations against the system that tore their families apart, they could sway local elections and start to swing more states blue.
In Arizona, 43% of citizens under 18 are Latinx, according to Latino Decisions. The Latinx electorate is a demographically dynamic group but it has consistently leaned for Democratic candidates in presidential elections.
As it is right now Trump’s xenophobic comments have fired people up, but it’s the work of canvassers like Maldonado, that has channeled that frustration into action by registering and educating voters.
"What we're doing right now makes me powerful,” says Maldonado. “The people that I'm around make me powerful.”