American Voter: Mary Shiraef

Al Jazeera asks the same key questions about the presidential election to voters across the United States.

Mary Shiraef's top election issue is immigration [Courtesy of Mary Shiraef]
Mary Shiraef's top election issue is immigration [Courtesy of Mary Shiraef]

US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.

Trump has been focusing on “law and order,” Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement, and whether Trump will release his taxes are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.

As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.

Mary A Shiraef

[Courtesy of Mary Shiraef]
Age: 29

Occupation: Graduate Student, University of Notre Dame

Residence: San Mateo County, California

Voted in 2016: Hillary Clinton

Will Vote in 2020: Joe Biden

Top Election Issue: Immigration 

Will you vote? Why or why not?

“I have already voted. And I always vote. This is a particularly important election.

“I feel as though the US is at a precipice of disaster. And especially given my concerns of democracy, I have many reasons. I’m pushing against the notion of choosing one — I have several. I don’t know which one to start with, [but] I guess the most important one for me is the one that’s impacted my friends — so the removal of DACA — from many of my friends, basic access has been deteriorating for me, and just like basic certainty and stability for their lives.

“But also, I attend the University of Notre Dame, and the university — specifically the faith-based organisation — [was allowed by] the Trump administration [to remove] access to birth control, which came as a surprise to me. So, I guess I expected that a Trump presidency would impact our most vulnerable populations in the US, but I didn’t actually expect that it would impact me. And I was wrong.”

What is your number one issue?

“I come from an Evangelical background that historically votes with abortion as the primary issue, and I’ve really been actively pushing against that, because I think, especially right now, using one issue, justifies others that might become permanent, infrastructural features of the US that cannot be undone.

“To answer your question though, an issue that’s closest to me lately, is immigration. I work on topics of immigration. I also come from a family that immigrated to the US, and so, I’ve done both personal research on our family history, and I’ve done research on immigrants outside of our family. That is the closest one to me, I started a project, as soon as COVID broke to start documenting changes to immigration across the globe. And that particular project has shown me how extensive the changes are in the US, currently using COVID-19 as a guise, in my view. But the hypocrisy behind introducing so many changes to the immigration system versus not really having a domestic response at all, has been striking. So, that’s the closest issue to me.”

Who will you be voting for?

“I voted for Biden.”

Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?

“I think Biden will win honestly and I would have voted for him on the grounds of being against Trump’s platform alone. But since making that decision to vote for him as the most viable candidate, I’ve incidentally become really impressed with him as a candidate. I think he’s really impressive, his commitment to American democracy [is impressive], [and] I’m really encouraged by — I think his immigration policies are reasonable and humane. And I guess the immigration issue is at the forefront of my mind.

“But overall, I’ve been really impressed with Joe Biden’s character. I know that he is willing to learn, still — I think that’s a really great quality. And, in general, I think the level of crisis the US is at, incidentally, somebody who has the level of experience that Biden has, is what we need.”

Are you happy with the state of the country?

“I’m not very happy with the state of the country. I guess the hypocrisy and the level of selfishness that’s come out, under a Trump presidency has been really concerning. I don’t critique people’s motives. I don’t think that people are meaning to be so selfish, but the personal centrism — the focus on one issue, in particular, by many of my former friends and family, even — has really pushed aside the fact that you should vote not only with your own personal interests in mind, but [with] the concerns of those around you. That hypocrisy has been really concerning.

“And the lies that Trump promulgates, I think puts us at an information divide beyond what we experienced before. I think that that was kind of the rhetoric of past elections, ‘we’re becoming polarised, etc’, and now we’ve exceeded that. It’s centred on all aspects of society, all institutions. It’s pretty clear, the stark division.”

What would you like to see change?

“I mean, I buy Biden’s promise on immigration — that he can accomplish what he set out to do in his first hundred days of office. I don’t remember all of them offhand, but he’s promised to reverse the cruellest of the policies introduced by Trump, he’s admitted that Obama’s level of deportations when he was the sitting vice president [were] inhumane and has agreed to reverse some of those policies. I can’t remember his exact promise on DACA, but I know that it’s not to reverse it or to minimise it to one year, as Trump has done. If he wants to meet with the leader of Mexico within the first 100 days, I think that will be positive — just having someone who has the level of diplomacy that Biden has, to start meeting with foreign diplomats, again, I think will be a positive direction for the country.”

Do you think the election will change anything?

“It depends on who wins, how I frame that answer. But let’s say that Biden wins. I do think that things have changed already towards people paying much more attention to politics. And this country, I think in the past, our levels of protests were historically actually very, very low, and that has changed pretty dramatically since the Women’s March. I think that that trend will continue. I think that turnout will be huge. I’m hoping especially among Black American populations [there] will be [a] historic feat, compared to our past turnouts.

“The younger generation [is] really paying attention to climate change. I have students here [that are] 10 years younger than me now, and just seeing their level of enthusiasm for saving the planet is great, and knowing that they’re the ones who will be the voters coming around the bend is really promising. I do think that this election will change a lot.”

What is your biggest concern for the US?

“I’ve been letter writing quite a lot, and the biggest concern that comes out pretty regularly is related to immigration. Forty-seven million immigrants live in the US and contribute to the US in a tremendous way, [but] none of them get to vote. So, that’s definitely my main concern.

“I think that there is a moral underpinning to what the country is facing. So that’s kind of a new concern that I wouldn’t have previously brought to the forefront of my political arguments, but voting for Trump, I have a moral aversion to that. I think that he actively divides the country, and differences are OK, but perpetuating the rhetoric of ‘the other side,’ is pretty dangerous, and he has arguably created civil war conditions in the US. The uptick in violence is extremely concerning. And it hasn’t touched me personally, but it’s touched my friends. It’s really hard to pin down an answer to that question. But I guess the main concern for me centres around how immigrants have been treated lately and disenfranchised, really.”

Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you want to share?

“When I did research into my personal family history, I found a lot of documents that my family hadn’t seen before, like the ship manifests that my great grandmother coming over from Greece took. She came over as a young girl, she was brought over by her uncle … I also found that her uncle, I’m assuming — had to record everyone’s career. So he put himself as a workman — this was the 1920s — he put his wife as a housewife, and he put his two daughters and my ‘yia-yia’ Bessie as scholars. I don’t even know how old she was exactly — the documents said that she was, I think, under 16 the first time … but the interesting thing is that I found out later that her age was a mistake, and it legally had to be corrected. And that had to be done before she could access her citizenship.

“That sort of small mistake that she made [then] can now be criminalised and become grounds for deportation — it’s just been paralysing. Watching some of my own family members vote for Trump and, you know, not know about or grapple with this change over time and immigration system impacting new populations, whereas we’ve benefitted from it tremendously … It’s really been paralysing for me and my response has been to reach out to as many people I can and share good information. I think that that’s been happening a lot in the US, so I hope that that continues.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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