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'Do-or-die moment': Latino Biden supporters canvass in battleground states against Trump

"If we don't go out there and he wins, can you imagine how this community is going to live after Election Day?" said one volunteer in Wisconsin.
Lalo Linares
Lalo Linares, 27, relies on his job as a farmworker to provide for him and his son, but he took a two-week break to volunteer as a canvasser in Arizona to get more Latinos out to vote for Joe Biden.United Farm Workers

SAN ANTONIO — Military veteran Miguel Martinez went car to car pointing a digital thermometer at the heads of a few people equipped with masks and sanitizers who, despite a rise in coronavirus case numbers in Texas, were ready to go door to door to ask for votes for Joe Biden.

"I feel this is another way of serving the country," said Martinez, 34, a paid organizer for the Texas Organizing Project. "A lot of people are fed up with things, and that's how I feel, too. That's why I came and did this." He said he's worried that votes are being suppressed in the state, saying it's a "civil rights issue."

Latino Democrats in battleground states have been hitting neighborhoods, trying to boost the digital work and phone banking they began when the pandemic hit. In Texas, the stakes are high now that the presidential race is considered a toss-up.

The pro-Biden organizers and volunteers point to four years of rule by a president who has failed their community, citing the growing pandemic, which threatens to wipe out gains in Latino wealth and is leading to a "historic decimation" of Latino families.

They also tell voters about President Donald Trump's continued attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his policy of intentionally separating children from their parents to deter immigration.

Miguel Martinez, 34, of San Antonio, helped ensure that Texas Organizing project canvassers were OK to go door to door to turn out Latino voters in the city for Joe Biden.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

But organizers are also hustling for Democratic Latino votes because Trump has held on to solid shares of Hispanics around the country, with polls showing that he has gained in battleground states like Florida. Trump's Latino supporters extol his economic record before the coronavirus and his anti-abortion stand, and some support his immigration record.

Hispanics are the second-largest voting group behind whites — with 32 million eligible voters — and Latino voters' turnout increased significantly in the 2018 midterms. But this year, the coronavirus put a stop to large voter registration events and get-out-the-vote rallies.

Latinos were less likely to say they were extremely motivated to vote than U.S. voters overall, 54 percent to 69 percent, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Enter the canvassers.

In Wisconsin, from meat plant worker to canvasser

Latinos are 4.2 percent of eligible voters in Wisconsin, according to the Pew Research Center — about 183,000 people. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by just 22,748 votes.

Wisconsin is also one of several key swing states being hit hard by Covid-19.

Raquel Alvarado, 39, of Green Bay, is one of Covid-19's victims. She tested positive in April and lost work for three weeks at an American Foods meat plant. She tested positive again two days after she returned to work in May.

Now healthy, Alvarado has a different job, and she has also been canvassing for three weeks as a volunteer with Voces de la Frontera Action, the political arm of a Latino, immigrant and workers advocacy group. With her sister-in-law, they have knocked on 700 doors, she said.

Alvarado, who became a citizen three years ago, said she has siblings who are undocumented. It is for those relatives that she endures cold temperatures and snow — on top of humiliation and cursing from Trump supporters.

One Trump supporter said Trump is "going to take all of you out of this country — you should go back to Mexico."

Raquel Alvarado, 39, of Green Bay, Wis., is canvassing with her sister-in-law in snow and cold to turn out Latinos to vote for Joe Biden.Courtesy Raquel Alvarado

Alvarado canvasses from 11 a.m. to 5:30 or 6 p.m., and the work isn't easy. Many people she encounters can't read or write or aren't familiar with the issues. She still deals with some of the effects of Covid-19.

But this is a do-or-die moment, she said.

"He doesn't want to do anything for our people," she said about Trump. "He doesn't care. If we don't go out there and he wins, can you imagine how this community is going to live after Election Day and he's made president for four years more?"

Mi Familia Vota, a national Latino advocacy group that has canvassed in Latino neighborhoods for many elections, launched its #BastaTrump field campaign in August, a nearly $14 million push to get Trump out of office. The group has canvassers out in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and California, and this year it expanded its digital and traditional media advertising in English and Spanish beyond those six states to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

"It was important for us to be in the neighborhoods, because our community needs us," said Héctor Sánchez Barba, executive director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota.

In Arizona, a farmworker turns canvasser

Blanca Ramirez, 53, said she's motivated to walk long distances in Arizona as a canvasser for Mi Familia Vota by her grandchildren and the rest of her family. She became a citizen a year ago, and this will be her first presidential election.

"There is a lot of racism here. The president has humiliated us. This makes me want to get voters out even more," she said.

Lalo Linares, 27, harvests spinach in Yuma, Arizona, from October through May and then works in California the rest of the time. This year, California's wildfires filled the air over the fields where he worked with smoke and ash, aggravating his asthma.

The 12- to 13-hour-a-day work, more when the orders jump at Christmastime, is the only work that pays him enough to survive, he said.

But this year, he decided to delay his return to Yuma's spinach fields by two weeks so he could canvass in Phoenix with the United Farm Workers.

When a United Farm Workers leader asked Linares why he wanted to volunteer, he pointed to a quote from Cesar Chavez: "We don't need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation."

"Nobody is helping them out," Linares said of farmworkers, adding that he thinks Biden can bring a change. "A lot of immigrants out there are doing the hardest jobs but are afraid to even talk and feel what they feel."

Arizona, a Republican presidential stronghold, is now considered a toss-up. A growing number of Latinos, who have organized to beat back anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 and the racial profiling of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, have mobilized voters and helped make the state more Democratic.

Retired health worker fights disinformation in Florida

The Trump campaign's efforts among Latinos have been most active in Florida, where the two campaigns have been holding dueling rallies aimed at the state's diverse Latino electorate. On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama was in Orlando, where Puerto Rican voters are being wooed by both candidates.

In Miami, Nélida Aranda, 65, a retired nursing assistant, has been knocking on doors since July for the New Florida Majority, part of the progressive Florida for All coalition.

Aranda, a native of Peru, said she tries to "educate people on Obamacare, on disinformation and the hate towards Latinos."

Disinformation, spread largely by conservatives and Trump supporters through apps and digital platforms, has been a major issue this election cycle among Florida's Latinos. In addition, the Trump campaign has released a barrage of Spanish-language ads tagging Biden as a socialist.

Aranda said she keeps knocking on doors because "the country needs change."

The age-adjusted hospitalization rate for Hispanics from Covid-19 is 4.5 times higher than for white people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"So many people have died because of Covid," she said. "Trump doesn't take it seriously."

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