I remember getting called to the principal’s office in the fifth grade, in Tijuana, Mexico. I remember feeling anxious and nervous, asking myself, “What did I do wrong?” As I entered the office, I saw the principal sitting at her desk. Right in front of her I saw my mom, who was also sitting down. I didn’t know that that would be the last day I got to see my classmates, my friends, my teachers. That was the day my parents made the sacrifice to leave everything behind. They were pushed to escape the violence in Tijuana because my dad had been previously kidnapped. Thankfully, he was let go after a ransom was paid. Due to my parents’ courage, my little brother, mom, dad and I didn’t have to wait to see one of our loved ones be once again a victim of the violence and corruption in Mexico.
December 22, 2003, was one of my happiest days. I remembered that my dad had finally purchased a home in Mesa, Arizona. We didn’t have much; I still remember feeling the carpet [against] my back as we were trying to fall asleep. I still remember that in that cold night, our warmth kept us safe — our warmth, the security and comfort I crave. Since then, I had to work twice as much (or even more) to prove my worth — from learning English in six months, to being rejected from taking eighth grade honors math due to a lack of English proficiency, to being the first one in my family to ever graduate high school and then college.
In 2010, as a sophomore in college in the midst of a growing Tea Party Movement, and a state (Arizona) hasty to scapegoat and blame “illegal immigrants” for every single bad thing, I decided to lift my voice and come out of the shadows as an undocumented student. At that time, there was a growing local and national movement of undocumented youth fighting for the DREAM Act. As we know, the DREAM Act failed by five Democrats voting no and one Republican (my senator) filibustering the piece of legislation.
After the failure of the DREAM Act in 2010, tears, despair, anxiety, fear and disappointment were too familiar feelings for many undocumented youth. Yet, we didn’t give up; we had to push forward with different tactics — from fighting cases of individual young people facing deportation proceedings, to educating the general public, to engaging in direct action and civil disobedience. We won Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, after a lot of sacrifices, suffering and persistence. We did not only engage in a national push to protect undocumented youth from deportations but also had to fight for our families and our communities at the local and state level, for their protections and for their freedom from deportation. Here in Arizona, we defeated hateful politicians like former Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce. We also spread awareness about the inhumane practices of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and eventually kicked him out of office.
Now, five years after winning DACA, undocumented youth like me are once again at risk of having to face deportations, because the current administration has decided to rescind the DACA program. Now the information we entrusted to the government can be used to retaliate against us by separating us from our families and our community.
What’s Next for Undocumented Youth?
This battle was lost but we have not yet been defeated.
What is next for activists, in the face of the DACA decision? We have to understand the power we have built in the past five years and leverage it. We have to wrap each other in love and remember that this battle was lost but we have not yet been defeated.
We will have to organize even more, and we know it will take many sacrifices. We know that if we don’t find a permanent solution in the next six months, we could start seeing the Department of Homeland Security target undocumented youth and put us in deportation proceedings starting on March 6, 2018.
We also know that Congress has already introduced the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for people like me. However, we are not naïve about the intentions of the right wing. We are certain that they will do anything in their power to use our pain as a bargaining chip to target enforcement against other immigrant populations. In other words, they are hoping to twist the push to save the Dreamers into a tool to target other immigrants in even tougher ways.
Trump-like Republicans’ strategy is to pit immigrants against one another in a fight over who is the worthiest: the valedictorian over the laborer, the Mexican-American over the Muslim-American.
Therefore, we are in a key moment where we need to push for a vote for the DREAM Act as a standalone. This means that this vote should be independent of votes for other immigration rules. We need to understand that Trump-like Republicans’ strategy is to pit immigrants against one another in a fight over who is the worthiest: the valedictorian over the laborer, the Mexican-American over the Muslim-American. But we know this is a false choice. We can, and must push for legislation that will deliver a permanent solution to the end of DACA without making life even harder for immigrants who are not DACA recipients.
On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration showed its true colors yet again. We witnessed a sad day in American history and we will make sure that is never forgotten. The termination of DACA by this administration is a wake-up call for the US. It calls us to reflect on our own actions — or lack thereof. We have to ask ourselves if we want to be known as the nation that deports people like me — people who came here at a young age, learned in US public schools, and are teaching the future generations of our nation’s leaders. Do we want to be a nation that will protect people like me, but then conduct middle-of-the-night raids to round up parents who fled violence and poverty and chose a better life for their children? Are we willing to let injustices happen because we are too afraid or too comfortable to raise our voices against those injustices?
We must not forget that our nation has had unjust laws in the past. Those of us with rights and a voice have a responsibility to stand with the most vulnerable. We must speak truth and love. Congress can end this uncertainty by supporting legislation that will protect undocumented youth like me. Republicans and Democrats have the responsibility to solve this government-created problem and provide a permanent solution to the cruel ending of DACA.
It is up to us not only to fight for undocumented youth but also to continue to push for protection and solutions of the whole undocumented community.
Beyond this, we as a community do not have the luxury to only engage in pressuring Congress. We must also pressure school presidents, city councils, mayors and others to ensure that our undocumented community does not continue to be used as a scapegoat. It is up to us not only to fight for undocumented youth but also to continue to push for protection and solutions of the whole undocumented community. We don’t have the luxury to lose time, because our lives and livelihoods are at stake.