An emigrant from the Dominican Republic, Nina Rodriguez*, 21, has been pursuing her United States citizenship for the past 12 years. Before following her family to the country at the age of nine, Rodriguez was raised by her grandmother while her mother established roots in America. After becoming a resident, she was restricted from leaving the country for seven years, separated from her family abroad. Though still unable to vote, Nina’s immigrant status has not deterred her from working on the Obama campaign and pursuing a degree in Political Science at New York University.
Q: What motivated your mother’s decision to move your family to the United States?
A: Unlike most of the people I know that immigrated, my mom didn’t come for better job opportunities; she was actually running away from a nasty divorce. She felt like she had too much baggage and pain in the Dominican Republic so she packed up and left. I followed about a year after.
Q: You are a resident of the United States, but not officially an American citizen. What situations have you been in that made this distinction clear?
A: Traveling has been hard. I did a spring semester abroad in Prague and [airport customs officers] treated me like I was a criminal even though I had a green card. I would show my Dominican passport with all my American friends and they would tell me they need to see me in a different room. I had to explain why I’m there, how long I’ve been there, who I’m doing business with, if I’m doing business with anyone, if I met anyone, if I’m carrying anything. It was endless.
Q: How was your experience working as a volunteer on the Obama campaign?
A: I was a grassroots teen leader. There were six interns under our boss and we each had our own team of volunteers. Everyday after school we’d knock on doors and make phone calls to likely voters. I worked for them for three months and it was actually the best experience. It was the first time I learned to manage people and mediate conflict or deal with lazy volunteers that wanted to be involved, but weren’t motivated enough.
Q: Is there an important issue that has not been addressed in this election?
A: I think actual immigration reform should be talked about. I just don’t think they’re saying anything. One is trying to build a wall and the other is saying that we’re going to have immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, but what does that mean? I’m actually still not a resident. The immigration process is very long, I’ve been here for twelve years and I don’t qualify to be a citizen. I still have to wait two more years.
Q: Can you explain how your background has shaped your political leanings?
A: I’m a Democrat. I’m a Democrat economically, and healthcare wise and everything. I’m more of a socialist, actually. My mom did really well [economically]. I go to this school and she pays for it and that’s very good of her. She does pay more taxes than other people and I think that’s great if you’re doing well. We weren’t doing very well when we first got here and we needed help. The government helped us and now that we don’t need help, we can help other people.
*Name has been changed