Last spring, after graduating from Drake University, I spent months canvassing my congressional district for Progressive Turnout Project, an organization designed to get out the vote for Democrats. Like many millennials in the state, I was inspired by progressive candidates like Cindy Axne, who hoped to protect vulnerable Iowa families from xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Specifically, I committed myself to getting Republican incumbent Rep. David Young voted out of office.
I knocked doors, spoke to hundreds of voters, walked countless miles, and burned through two pairs of tennis shoes. Immigrant and minority voters said they’d become targets of hate mail and racist graffiti, while white voters expressed outrage at a government that broke up families and put children in cages. These voters were not swayed by anti-Axne attack ads that stereotyped undocumented immigrants as criminals. Nor did they appreciate Republican messaging that linked immigrants to drugs and politicized the tragic death of Mollie Tibbetts, an Iowa college student who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant.
It’s telling that some of Young’s Facebook ads explicitly excluded voters under 25; according to the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of people under 30 believe that immigration strengthens our country.
My peers and I love that Des Moines’ diversity gives us access to incredible restaurants, places of worship, cultural events and new businesses. To us, the addition of 3,000 Hispanic and Asian-American voters to our district in the last two years is a boon. How can you not celebrate our district’s more than 1,087 immigrant business owners or the fact that our foreign-born residents here contribute more than $317.7 million a year in taxes, according to New American Economy?
The fact is, most of my immigrant friends are the first in their families to attend college. They are realizing the American dream and becoming new assets to our community.
Millennials like me also have little patience for anti-immigrant rhetoric because for us, the issue is personal. My grandfather came to the U.S. from Iran in 1960 and worked as a cardiovascular surgeon for 45 years. Relatives from Iran used to visit us all the time, but Trump’s travel ban put an end to that. This May, when my aunt gets married in Michigan, our family in Iran won’t be able to attend her wedding.
As the granddaughter of an immigrant, I see how anti-immigration policies hurt my family. As a millennial who is proud to count Dreamers among my friends, I see how these policies threaten so many bright futures. My peers and I voted for pro-immigrant candidates in November, because we know that rhetoric and policy alike have real-world consequences for the people we love.
As Young’s defeat showed, we are eager to protect our vision of America as an open and inclusive nation. And our rapidly diversifying district will only strengthen that trend. The median age of our district’s Hispanic and Asian population is 23 and 31.7, respectively, compared with the white population’s median age of 38.8, according to Census data. All this should send a clear message to our nation’s leaders: Millennial voters recognize the value immigrants bring to our economy and society. We can and will shape the political process, because it impacts our future.
As the 2020 election approaches, I plan on burning through more tennis shoes. I’ll do whatever I can to increase voter turnout. And as Axne begins her term in Congress, I will keep fighting for better policies that respect the dignity and humanity of all people here in Iowa.