Itzel Rios: Undocumented High School Senior Reflects On Election

Published: Monday, November 7, 2016 - 9:30am
Updated: Monday, November 7, 2016 - 11:28am
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(Photo courtesy of SPOT 127)
Itzel Rios Soto.

We’ve spent a lot of time this election season talking about what sways voters, how the candidates interact with each other and what the polls say. But the outcome of elections affects everyone, even those who can’t vote, like Itzel Rios.

Rios is a senior at Bioscience High School in Phoenix and plans to apply to New York University or the University of Southern California to study film. She’s also undocumented.

Rios wrote this reflection on what the complex election season means to her, at KJZZ’s Youth Media Center Spot 127.


Being undocumented during the election cycle puts a certain label on me. Some people hear the word “undocumented” and immediately think “illegal “or “alien.”  I label myself,  “human."

As I finish up my senior year of high school, I think back on the the hundreds of pages I read in history books about how America has fought to become a place of equality and justice. But I find the opposite to be true. When I compare myself to a fellow classmate, one who is an American citizen, the differences might not seem obvious, but I feel them!  I want to know what it feels like to know your family unity is guaranteed. I want to know that every time I complete a scholarship application, the phrase “must be a US citizen” won't make me crumble inside. I want to know that immigration reform is on its way, because I need to know that everything will be okay.

Now the election is here, and the political debates, the campaign commercials and the politicians themselves just make me feel worse.

I become frustrated because there are so many people who don't know how important it is to vote. For immigrants like me, elections are a time that we both fear and await. They’re a double-edged sword. The outcome of elections can mean family separation, loss of jobs, loss of homes and lack of access to education. But elections also have the potential to create lasting change that would be positive for me:  immigration reform, which could grant amnesty to millions of people already living here, which could help the US economy.

Many of the people who do choose to vote aren’t even well educated on what their candidate of choice stands for. It infuriates me because their votes are potentially deciding what my future will be, and my Hispanic, immigrant voice has no say in it.

I don’t seek the title of “citizen.” That’s a man-made label. Instead, I want the rights and freedoms that belong to that title. The rights and freedoms that shouldn’t have been robbed from my ancestors. I won’t even dare call myself a “Mexican-American” because that is not who I consider myself to be. I truly respect, admire and stand for my Mexican culture and roots. But I seek better opportunities. I seek freedom; the kind the American Dream speaks of.  I seek a better tomorrow where I’m not deprived of my human rights, where I can benefit equally from healthcare, where I can access all educational resources. A tomorrow where I don’t have to worry about being Itzel.

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