I was drawn to the Republican Party because of my conservative principles — family-oriented, religious and socially conservative. But it has been difficult to reconcile my allegiance to the party with its devolving evermore into a mouthpiece for President Trump’s dangerous views and policies, especially with regard to immigration. This is deeply disturbing. It has forced me to reconsider my affiliation, and it could prove to be the thing that drives me away from the party for good.
Immigration isn’t just a political issue to me. It’s personal. Members of my extended family in the United States are DACA recipients. My parents immigrated to Miami from El Salvador and Guatemala in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act gave them a pathway to citizenship and a chance at a better life. They worked their way up from dishwashers to restaurant managers while raising me and my two siblings.
During the run-up to the midterm election last year, I saw how the toxic national rhetoric around immigration trickled down to local communities. In Oklahoma’s fifth district, where my family is now living, the Republican incumbent, Steve Russell, ran ads that stoked fears of “pipe bombs, shootings, migrant caravans,” equating migrants with criminals. And so last year I found myself doing something I never thought I’d do: I gave up my Republican Party affiliation.
I not only voted Democrat but also actively campaigned for Kendra Horn, the first female Democrat elected to Congress from Oklahoma. Ms. Horn was an advocate for families like mine. She understood that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers doesn’t compromise border security and that millions of taxpayer dollars would be much better spent on health care and education than on building an ineffective, expensive wall.
A lot of people thought she couldn’t win in a deeply conservative state. But what her Republican opponent failed to see and account for is that the state has become increasingly diverse. According to a report by New American Economy, since 2016 Oklahoma’s fifth district alone added more than 6,000 Hispanic and Asian-American voters, and lost more than 2,050 white voters.
Indeed nearly 30 percent of Latinos who cast a ballot in 2018 said they were voting in a midterm for the first time. I watched many of my classmates and peers who had supported the Republican ticket switch parties as I did. I’m also not alone in being personally affected by the politics of immigration. Republicans don’t seem to understand that they can’t afford to alienate voters like me.
Research by the Center for American Progress and the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration found that nationwide about 16.7 million people live in a household with at least one unauthorized family member. Young voters like me also tend to favor sensible and humane immigration policy reform. A study by GenForward at the University of Chicago found that more than 80 percent of 18-to 34-year-olds in all racial and ethnic groups support a pathway to citizenship for all law-abiding undocumented immigrants. And according to the Pew Research Center, 76 percent of millennials believe that immigrants make the country stronger.
When I look at our current leaders, I don’t see any of the values — Christian or otherwise — that originally drew me to the Republican Party. Instead, I see Mr. Trump’s reprehensible calculation to separate children from their parents and his callous indifference to 800,000 Dreamers, many of whom know no country but the United States. This country — especially young voters like me are tired of partisan, negative rhetoric. That’s why 43 House seats flipped from Republican to Democratic in November. That’s why young people like me have switched parties.
Last year I took the Spring semester off to work as a legislative intern for Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. It was deeply meaningful for me, as a young Republican, to have the opportunity to work for the first Latina elected to Congress, in the very district I grew up in. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen worked for her constituents, even if it meant breaking with party lines. I admired that.
I am not ready to give up on the Republican Party altogether. I’ve realigned with the party, with the hope of helping to foster the kind of compassionate conservatism I believe in. I’ve worked in both parties, and I know change is possible. I hope to follow the example set by politicians like Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Ms. Horn, unafraid to work across the aisle, put partisan politics aside and fight for what they believe in. It’s time to put country over party.
Diego Cifuentes is a political science major at East Central University in Ada and a legislative intern for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.