We asked immigrant voters in Minnesota what they hope happens on Election Day—and what outcome they fear most



Wednesday November 4, 2020
By JOEY PETERS, HIBAH ANSARI and BECKY Z. DERNBACH

After an election squeaker in 2016, new voters from Minnesota’s immigrant communities may determine the outcome in the 2020 presidential race. How do they feel going into Election Day? We asked.


Sahan Journal spoke with several Minnesota voters about their hopes and fears going into Election Day. Credit: Photo collage by Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

For many Minnesotans from immigrant communities, the political is personal. Since Donald J. Trump first came down an escalator calling Mexicans rapists, he has made immigration restrictions the central policy platform of his campaign and his presidency. In rally appearances in Minnesota and farther afield, Trump has singled out Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities with taunts and insults.

Away from the election, immigrants in Minnesota have encountered a barrage of challenges this year. People from immigrant communities have been more likely to get sick and die from the coronavirus. And the killing of George Floyd led to protests, unrest, and destruction—oftentimes to their businesses and in their neighborhoods.

Yet as Minnesota’s electorate becomes more diverse than ever, voters from immigrant and refugee families could be decisive in determining which candidate gets Minnesota’s electoral votes this year. Unprecedented resources are flowing into efforts to turn out the state’s Latino voters, while Minnesota’s Hmong voters are growing more politically diverse. Political power and participation in Minnesota’s Muslim community is also rapidly expanding.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by fewer than 45,000 votes. This year, it could be Minnesota’s immigrants and refugees who make the difference.
We caught up with several people reported on during the past year, and a few other immigrant voters, to get their thoughts on this election. What follows is their hopes and fears going into Tuesday, and what the election’s outcome may mean for their future.
Mohamed Barre, 56, Minneapolis, a former refugee originally from Somalia who came to the U.S. in 1995.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

That the political culture that is going on right now gets corrected. Because we have someone who is targeting communities like us, and he has to understand that we are another family in the neighborhood. Most of us are appreciative of what we’ve been given. I hope we elect someone who realizes our potential to contribute to American greatness and doesn’t pinpoint certain communities with negative attention.

What are your fears about this election and what it may bring?

Let’s say Trump is overwhelmed and Minnesota turns blue. What I’m worried about is that he is going to come out and say this is electoral fraud. I hope he waits and goes through the correct channels to correct if there are errors. And if there aren’t, I hope he will accept the outcome. But there is the fear that people he misleads will misuse it and put the blame on us.


Mohamed Barre, who works for Hennepin County and came to the United States in 1995. Credit: Mohamed Barre

He has a right to question Ilhan Omar—on her policies, but not the community. He should not bring his problems with Ilhan to us. He should not come here and say, “Somali, Somali, Somali,” because at the end of the day, 60,000-plus Somalis are here and are really working very hard, and they’re minding their business and want to leave a legacy for their children.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

All we are asking is to have a leader who recognizes to lead, not to divide. We need a leader who realizes that he has the potential to unite the community. He did not walk into office during the last election; he worked very hard. I will not take that away from him. But he should not put his anger on us.


Ali Alshihmani of Moorhead. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Ali Alshihmani, 27, came to the U.S. from Iraq in 2015 and currently lives in Moorhead. He received his citizenship in June and voted for the first time in a U.S. election last month.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

My hope is that the outcome will be for the Democratic Party, because in my opinion, what I see in comparing between President Trump and Vice President Biden is a lot of differences. When I look at President Trump, he doesn’t care about the country, he takes care only of himself and his business. If you look back at former President Obama, he accomplished a lot of things for business, the economy, and relationships with other countries. That means former Vice President Biden has experience to be president of the United States. 

What are your fears about this election and what it may bring?

We have the law, and the law protects us. If Trump wins, that doesn’t change this. My fear is that if Trump wins, we destroy a lot of progress. I don’t think it will be a positive outcome for people, the economy, and relationships between the U.S. and other countries. I’m living in a conservative area; most people are Republicans. I don’t think I’m in danger or anything. I don’t see that. I went to the courthouse and voted. The process went very well and there was no bad behavior with me.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

I don’t think so. I’m from the Middle East. I am agnostic: My thinking is free-thinking and I am very secular. I respect other religions, I respect other cultures. I’m not very political. I am very open with anybody about anything. So I am not feeling fear that this will affect my future. I can say to anyone that I voted for Biden and that I am proud of that, too.


Elisabel Villa-Penaloza voted early in Columbia Heights. Credit: Joey Peters | Sahan Journal


Elisabel Villa-Penaloza, Columbia Heights, dropped her absentee ballot off Saturday morning during a crowded day of early voting at city hall.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

First of all, that we stop caging the children for immigration and stop separating the families. I’m hoping that, with the new president coming in, there is a better future for everybody. That we’re all equal, no matter immigration status or religion. And I just hope that a lot of things get addressed that were promised in previous elections but were not addressed. I just hope that everything is brought to the table and that everybody can start out fresh.

What are your fears about this election and what it may bring?

My fear is that a lot of people are not going to be voting because of COVID-19 and they’re afraid to come out. But I do want to say that because of absentee voting, it’s a lot easier. I did it myself. I filled it out at home and I just dropped it off. It only took about five minutes to do.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

No, not really.


Avi, left, and Ash, right. Credit: Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

Avi and Ash, two brothers who did not want to disclose their last name. They live in Columbia Heights and came to the U.S. from Guyana in 2002.

Avi

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

I mean, it doesn’t really matter because I’m going to have to get up and go to work tomorrow. If a Democrat wins, that’s more money out of my pocket. And I own firearms. That’s why I voted Republican.

Do you have fears about the outcome of this election?

No, not really. I wasn’t even really planning on voting because I really didn’t care. But I just decided to vote, because I’ve got nothing else to do. Why not give it a shot?

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

No, not really, other than I don’t want to lose whatever I have already and pay more money for a bunch of crap.

Ash

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

I’d like to see the incumbent stay in office, because that means we don’t have to change what we’re doing right now until this COVID crisis is over. As soon as we have to change from one plan to another, that’s just going to set everything back.

Do you have fears about the outcome of this election?

Mostly surrounding the gun debate and defund the police. If they do decide to defund the police and put more restrictions on firearms, they’re actually restricting the law-abiding citizens vs. criminals. Because what are we going to do if we don’t have any weapons?

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

Not really, as long as I live through it. I still have to get up and go to work, like he said.


Antonia Alvarez, left, and Jaquelin Campos, right. Credit: Joey Peters | Sahan Journal


Jaquelin Campos, 19, Columbia Heights, voted for the first time in the primary and general election this year. Her family is originally from Mexico.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

This election, my hope is for more opportunities for young people, because many students quit school to work and they don’t have other opportunities.

Do you have fears about the outcome of this election?

I’m afraid that Donald Trump will win, because he’s not creating opportunities for people, especially for people like myself. 

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

I believe this election will impact Latinos, and we need to vote because the more we vote, the more people will support us. In this election, we need to support our communities.

Antonia Alvarez, Columbia Heights, an advocate with the pro-immigrant rights group Pueblos de Lucha y Esperanza

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

My hope for this election is the Latino vote makes the difference. This administration offends our community every single day, and we need to recognize our dignity. And we recognize our dignity by mobilizing our people to vote. The time is now to change this oppressive system.

Do you have fears about the outcome of this election?

I feel afraid because Trump does not understand that he needs to accept the election’s outcome.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

It directly impacts my family, because part of my family are citizens and part of my family are undocumented immigrants. Right now, a couple are on their way to becoming permanent residents.

Sahra Mohamed, 18, Minneapolis, student at Lincoln International High School. Her family is originally from Somalia.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

I’m hoping Biden wins because Trump has been targeting all the ethnic groups and hasn’t done anything to help us. All he’s doing is to help the white supremacists.

What are your fears about the election and what it may bring?

My fear is that Trump will win and he will finally get to do all the things he’s been preaching about: build his wall and stop immigration and health care.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

He was talking about how he was going to stop immigration in the USA, which can affect my mom’s sister, who’s trying to come here.


Comedian and filmmaker Naomi Ko. Credit: Naomi Ko


Naomi Ko, 29, Savage, filmmaker, actor, and comedian.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

I hope there’s a blue wave, top to bottom. I hope we win every seat in every election, big and small. And by we, I mean Democrats.

What are your fears about the election and what it may bring?

I’m afraid of Trump winning and the repercussions of that. The other biggest fear that I have is if Trump and the Republicans do lose, but if they don’t lose gracefully. What will that mean for us as we try and defend the election results?

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

My parents are both United States Postal Service employees and their job security, their livelihood is at stake. My family’s life is also at stake, with the way that COVID-19 has been going, and the blatant anti-Asian sentiment. This is just going to get worse if we don’t have a change in leadership.


Sagal Ali, program coordinator at Ayada Leads. Credit: Jaida Greay Eagle | Sahan Journal

Sagal Ali, 26, Brooklyn Park, program coordinator at Ayada Leads, a civic engagement group for women from the African diaspora.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

I really hope that Biden and Harris win. Quite honestly they weren’t my first preference. I’m willing to admit that I’m voting for Biden because he is the person who will get me closest where I align as far as values. My hope is that more people are engaged from a civic perspective.

What are your fears about the election and what it may bring?

A number of factors could lead to a very dangerous election night. There might not be a gracious transition of power. That leaves a lot of people in fear. I’ve had conversations with a number of people that are debilitated by fear. It’s very strange, actually.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

Healthcare is a big thing for me. Both of my parents are high risk and are beneficiaries of Obamacare. They’ve greatly benefited from access to certain things. With the Trump administration, I’m fearful that we’ll lose that access.


University of Minnesota researcher Anab Gulaid. Credit: Anab Gulaid

Anab Gulaid, Apple Valley, University of Minnesota researcher and former deputy assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

What are your hopes for what will come out of this election?

My hopes and fears collide with each other. My hope is that we have a fair election. I hope that whoever wins will unite the country, build the economy, and create an environment that’s safe for all. Also, I hope the country takes a positive direction in terms of public health. Those will impact me, my family, and people around me.

What are your fears about the election and what it may bring?

My fear is that there will be mass confusion. And that it will be much more complex than what we went through when Bush and Gore were running for president with the hanging chad ballots in Florida.

Do you have any personal stakes in the outcome of this election?

I’ve been in this country under a Republican presidency and a Democratic presidency. Towards the end of President Bush’s term, we had the recession, the banks, and all of the stuff that happened. So, you want the next president to restore the economy, and address unemployment and the housing crisis. This time around, our priority should be the pandemic and our economy, mental health, well-being, and education.



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