Guest Columnist

I'm 18, and I helped turn my district blue

‘I Voted’ stickers used during a mock election at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
‘I Voted’ stickers used during a mock election at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Earlier this year, when President Donald Trump promoted his zero tolerance policy that resulted in thousands of immigrant families being separated, I felt heartbroken. Whenever he talks about building a wall, I feel angry. This is not the America I want. And so, when I turned 18 last May, I decided to send a message to Trump and Congress: My generation wants fair and humane immigration reform.

I made good on this promise in November. In my first midterm election, I cast my ballot for Abby Finkenauer, the Democrat elected to represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Along with 50.9 percent of voters, I helped to flip the district from red to blue. I agree with representative-elect Finkenauer on issues such as alleviating student debt, bringing jobs to Iowa, and increasing environmental protections. But like many of my fellow students who grew up in Iowa, immigration also topped the list.

It’s amazing to see how much has changed here in recent years. My district voted for Trump in 2016, but since then political attitudes and demographics have begun to change. Millennials are a big reason that many districts flipped from Republican to Democrat across the country. An estimated 31 percent of eligible people ages 18 to 29 voted in the last month’s midterms, up from 21 percent in 2014, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

And as statistics show, a majority of young voters lean Democrat. In addition, our district gained nearly 1,500 Hispanic and Asian-American voters since 2016, according to New American Economy. During that same period, the share of white voters here declined by 0.7 percent.

It’s a trend that played out across the country, especially in districts that flipped red to blue. These demographic groups rejected the anti-immigrant messaging that so many candidates used during the campaign. It’s also worth noting that in our district, Hispanics are younger on average than the white population. The median age of 21 compares with 40, respectively.

I believe Finkenauer’s messages of inclusion resonated with this young and increasingly diverse faction of voters. She supports renewing DACA and disagrees with building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Her Republican opponent Rod Blum, on the other hand, ran anti-immigrant ads with claims of “criminal illegal aliens on our streets.” I was angered by how these messages unfairly stereotyped an entire group of people. The majority of immigrants — legal or not — are not criminals, rapists or drug abusers. They are families, professionals and students like myself, people who want to contribute economically and do well by their neighbors. Blum also expressed support to build a wall, promoted Trump’s “Muslim ban,” and voted with Trump to penalize sanctuary cities — all policies I reject.

Immigrants are a vital part of the American economy. We don’t give them enough credit for how much work they do. As Finkenauer heads to Congress, I hope she can pass inclusive, progressive bills that help everyone, including immigrants.

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Candidates have to rethink their anti-immigration messaging if they want to appeal to voters, especially growing groups such as millennials, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

My friends and I feel energized by the midterm election results, and we’re dedicated to staying involved. We’re excited that we helped put more LGBTQ candidates, people of color, and 100 women in office. This diversity can only strengthen our government. The country is changing. The electorate is more diverse than ever. It’s time for candidates to embrace this diversity, especially as it pertains to immigration policy. Judging by the midterms, their future in Congress depends on it.

• Olivia Calvin is majoring in environmental studies and math at Coe College.

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