Activists Storm Washington, Demanding Protection for All Immigrants

An immigration activist wears butterfly wings during a protest March 5, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)An immigration activist wears butterfly wings during a protest March 5, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today’s interview is the 113th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

UPDATE: On March 6, a Maryland District Judge rejected a challenge to the Trump administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, giving the administration a symbolic win after two federal judges had previously halted the attempt to end the program.

March 5 was the deadline set by the Trump administration for the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protecting young immigrants. The deadline came and went without Congress acting, and around the country, migrants and their allies held demonstrations demanding legislators take up the issue. Today we bring you a conversation with two young organizers from the Seed Project of Movimiento Cosecha: Maria Duarte, who is undocumented and came to the US at the age of five, and Omar Cisneros, a US-born ally.

Sarah Jaffe: Tell us about the action that you were part of this week.

Maria Duarte: We actually had a two-week-long action — 15 days — we walked from New York City to Washington, DC. We did it in order to show the American public — but also our community — that no matter what challenge we face and what obstacles are put in our way, we are going to continue fighting and pushing for community.

The reason we’re able to do that is that we walked with the same resilience and strength that our community demonstrates, fighting for their right to be and stay in this country.

The walk was called the “Walk to Stay Home,” and to me, that meant home being the home I have created in this country, with the laws of my community.

And then Monday, March 5, was a significant day because of the deadline for DACA. We know that the deadline didn’t really happen because of the fact that we are going to be able to continue renewing our work permits, though there are going to be no new applications and no new advance parole applications either, which makes some folks feel a little better about the situation. But we’re still in limbo; we don’t know what’s going to happen six months from now, a year from now, if they’re going to continue to renew our permits.

We walked with the same resilience and strength that our community demonstrates, fighting for their right to be and stay in this country.

There’s lots of uncertainty everywhere, so we still took action on Monday because we thought it was very important to still show that although we can continue to renew those permits, we’re still in crisis: There’s still a lot of people who would have qualified for DACA and now can’t; there’s still so many young folks who didn’t qualify for DACA and need a clean DREAM Act.

We decided to target Democrats specifically because time and time again, we’ve seen that Democrats have the ability to help us…. And they chose not to help us. In 2010, we needed five more votes from Democrats to pass the DREAM Act. It didn’t happen. It’s become like a cycle of Democrats promising us something and continuing to just downplay our experience and our struggle as they continue to contribute to the attacks on our communities. The Obama administration deported 3 million people.

Honestly, as an undocumented person, I feel betrayed by the Democratic party and feel that they are only using us as a political gambling toy. It was time that we called them out on that, and so we took action yesterday at the [Democratic National Committee headquarters] and told them that our community will stop voting for them, our allies will stop voting for them if they don’t take action that’s actually tangible.

What kind of response did you get from them?

Duarte: We asked them if they were on our side; [we asked] the staffers to take a seat with us and help us block the door, and you know, they sat down…. It seemed like what we were saying was getting to them. I think I saw some in the room tear up when they heard our stories. But at the end of the day, they could be out here protesting the Democratic Party with us. They’re still there.

We are heartbroken that we continue to be glorified while our parents continue to be criminalized.

They say that they’re pushing their leaders, but in all reality, at the end of the day, those folks who do decide to join us in the fight are going to take out their support from the Democratic Party completely, because as of now, the Democratic party is not our ally, and so we don’t see them in the light of a party that’s trying to help us, but rather as a party that has contributed to the attacks on our community.

Omar, tell me why it was important for you to be part of this.

Omar Cisneros: Specifically, on the March 5 action, I’d say it was important because in Oregon, I’ve run campaigns for Democrats, trying to flip seats in rural Oregon, and before I start working on a campaign or helping them run it, I always ask a few questions — which are big deal-breakers for me if they don’t answer them right. One of those is their stance on immigration. And time and time again, it seems like they promise me that something’s going to happen — I myself am not undocumented but I have family members who are — and they convince me that if I … help get them elected, they’re going to help. And time and time again, I’ve seen that it doesn’t work, and that simply helping them and asking them what they’re going to do for the community is not helping the situation.

What happens next? What are the plans going forward for the next few months?

Duarte: The Seed Project is a project that comes out of Movimiento Cosecha, which is called the Harvest Movement. And so, we planned to pivot out of the Seed Project because the Seed Project was supposed to advocate a clean DREAM Act, and a clean DREAM Act would be a DREAM Act that doesn’t harm our communities and isn’t damaging the livelihood of all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Recently, the actions that we’ve taken have been to show our community that if we all come out of the shadows collectively, we are stronger.

And so, there’s going to be a pivot where we shift back to Cosecha. Now that there’s not a finite deadline, we’re trying to figure out what that pivot is going to look like. The main strategy of Cosecha is to fight for permanent protection, dignity and respect for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, not just the Dreamers. So, the Seed Project will likely go to that messaging and continue to fight for all 11 million. Because with that in mind, all of us who have participated in this walk and who have participated in the actions against the [Democratic National Committee headquarters], we all fully believe that our parents are the original Dreamers. We are not any more deserving than they are; we are really sick and tired and heartbroken that we continue to be glorified while our parents continue to be criminalized. So, our ultimate goal is to protect all 11 million.

We’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen yet, but we need to advocate for a clean DREAM Act because that’s something feasible right now that we can attain.

This is an election year. Obviously, there are a lot of people running on opposition to various Trump policies. Omar, you talked about the promises that people have made in the past and how those have not come true. Looking at this election year, again, people can make a lot of promises on the campaign trail, but what are you looking to see from people who are running, they say, to oppose the Trump agenda?

Cisneros: Right now, it seems like the Democrats have a lot of momentum and so it’s really easy to get caught up in just trying to switch America to becoming blue regardless of the policies and all that. But I think it really is holding them accountable and showing them that even though it seems like they have momentum to take the House or Senate back, we’re still going to hold them accountable … even if it costs them races, they have to see that we are also people that they represent and that we deserve to be heard.

How can people get involved and support your work?

Duarte: I think our biggest goal both with the walk and the actions that we’ve been doing hasn’t necessarily been to target politicians anymore. Because you know, 86 percent of the American public supports Dreamers. We know that politicians know that we’re here; we’ve done enough actions. The Democrats have shared our stories, they know our stories, they see us — it’s just a matter of them acting at this point.

So recently, the actions that we’ve taken have been for our community and the reason that we do that is to show our community that there is a movement, and that if we all come out of the shadows collectively, we are stronger. And so, what happens next is that we need to advocate and call our communities to join us in this fight.

The best way for them to connect is by starting their own Cosecha chapters in their cities. There [are] a lot of people who are starting to advocate for the messaging of Cosecha and have started chapters in their own cities. People really donating to the cause, because a lot of us are volunteer, full-time organizers with Cosecha. We live under volunteer simplicity, we’re completely funded by the community and we speak for the community, so donations are always helpful.

And then for folks to just take our calls to action. There [are] a lot of times where we have actions and we call for solidarity actions around the country — people hosting their own solidarity actions to lend support to our actions is always monumental. Just coming out, too, when we do calls to action, here in Washington, DC, if we’re in your state, passing through, coming and joining us in the fight is just as important.

And can people keep up with you and with Cosecha online?

Duarte: You can follow the Seed Project on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter…. You can also follow Movimiento Cosecha on Facebook.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.