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In a father and son’s journey to get out the vote, a reminder of the election’s stakes

Edison Hernandez, right, and his son Brian review lists of registered voters in Allentown, Pennsylvania on November 5, 2016

Joanna Slater/The Globe and Mail

Under a cloudless sky on a perfect fall day, Edison Hernandez bounds up the stairs of yet another house and turns to his 12-year old son Brian.

"What's the name?" he asks. Brian consults the sheaf of papers in his hands and answers: "Martinez."

The father-and-son duo is persistent. First they ring the doorbell. Then they knock on the door. They wait, hoping for the chance to talk with the Martinez family. Finally, they hang a flyer on the doorknob which urges the occupant to vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8th. "Your vote is your power," it reads, in both Spanish and English.

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If asked, Mr. Hernandez is quick to offer reasons to support Ms. Clinton over Donald Trump, her Republican rival. Do it for the Latino community, he says. Do it because Trump is racist and anti-immigrant and shameless, he says. But never does he say: do it for people like me and my family, for whom this election could have irrevocable consequences.

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Mr. Hernandez is an undocumented immigrant who arrived in the U.S. from Uruguay 14 years ago. Brian, born in New Jersey, is the only American citizen in the family. His older sister Mariana was a toddler when her parents came. If Mr. Trump is elected, he has promised to end the program created by President Barack Obama to shield young people like Mariana from deportation. Mr. Trump has also called for the removal of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S., or approximately 11 million people.

With those stakes, Mr. Hernandez decided to get involved in an election for the first time. He and his son Brian are one tiny part of a massive get-out-the-vote operation now unfolding across the country. The time for persuasion is over: with just three days left in the race, the contest is a question of mechanics and manpower. At the state level, each party is working to make sure as many of its voters as humanly possible show up at the polls on Tuesday.

For Ms. Clinton, the Latino community is crucial. Mr. Trump has done more than any Republican candidate in memory to alienate such voters, but in the past they have proven difficult to mobilize. Now there are signs that pattern could be broken. In Florida, Latinos have flocked to early-voting stations in much larger numbers than in past elections, a potentially ominous sign for Mr. Trump.

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Pennsylvania, which does not allow early voting, is a key brick in Ms. Clinton's firewall and her campaign is determined to deny Mr. Trump a victory here. At the local level, the Democratic nominee is getting an assist from a plethora of activist groups, churches and unions. Mr. Hernandez and his son are part of two busloads of volunteers from New Jersey organized by Make the Road Action, an immigrant-focused advocacy group.

On a street of narrow houses and uneven sidewalks in this city in eastern Pennsylvania, Mr. Hernandez rings a doorbell and Trini Arias answers. She assures him that she will be voting for Ms. Clinton. "Every election is important," says Ms. Arias, 23, whose family is originally from the Dominican Republic. "But we have relatives who aren't legal and this could have a really big impact in their life."

Judging from Ms. Arias's experience, the turnout operation for Democrats in Pennsylvania is in overdrive: she says that Mr. Hernandez is the third volunteer to visit her home on Saturday alone and that comes in addition to regular visits in recent weeks.

As the afternoon progresses, Mr. Hernandez and Brian perfect their routine. If the person appears to speak Spanish, Mr. Hernandez takes the lead. If not, Brian begins to talk: "We're here to talk with you about the high stakes in this election," he begins.

Many people aren't home. Two older white men say they're voting for Trump. One woman leans out of a third-storey window and yells that she's not voting. "They're both full of baloney!" she hollers. But others like Queshelle Matthews, 26, say that Ms. Clinton has their vote. Most of the tenants in her apartment building are Latino, Ms. Matthews says. "They know what time it is – they know and we know," she says. "Trump doesn't care about minorities."

When Mr. Hernandez and his wife left Uruguay with their small daughter, the country was in the grips of an economic crisis. The couple came to the U.S. in search of better opportunities, above all for their children. A professional soccer player in his youth, Mr. Hernandez now does training workshops for construction workers on safety standards. He has no driver's license so he can't drive. He has taken one vacation in 14 years. There is never enough money and there is always a gnawing sense of insecurity.

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Mr. Hernandez doesn't entertain the possibility of a win by Mr. Trump. Instead, he is focused on helping Ms. Clinton and on her promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform, which could give people like him legal status in the U.S. Then he would feel at home, he says, and maybe get a better job. And that would help with another challenge: how to pay for the college education he desperately wants for his kids.

Brian, who just started Grade 7, looks down at the list of registered voters in his hands and directs his father to the next address. Mr. Trump "has said some really bad things about immigrants and we feel offended, and that's why we're doing this today," he says. "We're here so Hillary can be president."

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About the Author
U.S. Correspondent

Joanna Slater is an award-winning foreign correspondent for The Globe based in the United States, where her focus is business and economic news and New York City.Her career includes reporting assignments in the U.S., Europe and Asia. In 2015, she was posted in Berlin, Germany, where she covered Europe’s refugee crisis. More

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