‘Bernie or Bust’ is a risk many Americans with undocumented relatives can’t take

The World
Bernie Sanders fans show their support during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016.

Bernie Sanders fans show their support during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016.

Leo Hornak/The World

When loyal supporters of unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders say they will not vote for Hillary Clinton, it's usually for one of two reasons: Either they believe in Sanders' political revolution and want to use their vote as a statement, or they do not fear the possibility of a President Donald Trump.

Some voters with relatives who are undocumented say they can't afford to make either of those choices, no matter how much they're feeling the Bern.

Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has said since the start of his run that he wants to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, some people who may have continued to support Sanders after he lost the primaries have been saying that they just couldn't do it. They have family members at real risk of being deported if Donald Trump moves into the Oval Office, and feel spending a vote on Sanders instead of Clinton could help him.

Early in his run, Vermont Sen. Sanders faced criticism for attracting mostly white voters, but further along in his candidacy several minority groups started springing up to support him. One of them is Latinos for Bernie NYC, founded by Peruvian American Carmen Hulbert.

Hulbert doesn't think undocumented people in the United States have any reason to fear a President Trump more than they do President Barack Obama, who in 2014 was called the "deporter-in-chief" for having overseen more than 2 million deportations from the start of his time in office.

That means she's sticking with Sanders.

"We all know what [Trump says he] is going to do. But he is saying outlandish things from the beginning," Hulbert says. "I am not afraid of Donald Trump. Because if we're talking about deportation, we've already gone through horrible ordeals with deportation under Barack Obama."

Hulbert has organized Latinos all over New York City, educating them on Sanders' platform and converting them to his camp.

Helen Gym, a progressive organizer and the first Asian American councilwoman in Philadelphia, thinks Hulbert's take — that Obama's deportation record is as bad as Trump's might become — is ludicrous.

She says Sanders supporters who don't take the threat of deportation seriously are just upset their candidate didn't win the nomination.

"I don't have the patience to listen to embittered individuals who just feel like they didn't get the right candidate [for a nominee]," Gym says. "This struggle will never rely on individual candidates. It's about policy." Which is why Gym, though ideologically to her left, is supporting Clinton.

Sanders said as much during his speech at the DNC, though he barely mentioned immigration.

"This election is not about, and has never been about, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders or any of the other candidates who sought the presidency," he declared. "This election is about — and must be about — the needs of the American people and the kind of future we create for our children and grandchildren."

Gym works on issues of poverty and education in Philadelphia, which is a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. She focuses on grassroots efforts for change — activism within communities first.

She says the abstinence of the "Bernie-or-Bust" crowd, which was loud and present at the DNC's opening night, is particularly damaging for marginalized communities facing the possibility of Trump.

"Our families are being torn apart," Gym says. "I don't think [Trump] distinguishes between legal and undocumented immigrants at all."

Meanwhile, Hulbert is sure her "never Hillary" stance will not put Trump in the White House.

"I don't think the Bernie Sanders followers who won't vote for Hillary will do a disservice to the country because the Republicans are going to vote for her," Hulbert says. "Trump is not going to win."