In what organizers called “the first DACA sit-in of the Trump era,” dozens of immigrant rights activists marched toward the Texas state Capitol building in Austin on July 26, chanting, “The power is in our hands!”
At the intersection of West 15th Street and Congress, protesters unfurled banners that read “Permanent Protection Dignity AND RESPECT” and sat down in the street. Fifteen people were arrested, including four recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The action was organized by Cosecha Texas, a branch of Moviemento Cosecha, which describes itself as “a new nonviolent movement fighting for the permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.”
Texas is at the forefront of the nationwide governmental attack on immigrants. The state recently passed Senate Bill 4, an anti-sanctuary city bill that essentially deputizes state, county, city and campus law enforcement officers as immigration agents, and encourages and in some cases forces them to ask detained and arrested individuals their immigration status, and to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
SB 4 also includes provisions to remove from office elected and appointed officials who refuse to carry out these provisions. The American Civil Liberties Union called it “the worst racial profiling, anti-immigrant bill in the country.”
This horrible law is set to go into effect on September 1, but a June investigation by the Austin Chronicle revealed that “SB4 already exists de facto” on the Texas-Mexico border, where DPS officers are turning over drivers and passengers with minor traffic violations to federal immigration officials, effectively establishing a “pioneer law enforcement conduit into the deportation pipeline for non-criminals.”
Cosecha said in a statement that the sit-in was organized not only against SB 4, but also “in response to the recent threats facing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program.”
On June 29, Texas State Attorney General Ken Paxton led the attorney generals from nine other states in sending a letter to the Trump administration calling for DACA’s repeal.
The letter threated that if the administration failed to rescind DACA by September 5, these states would file suit against “both the DACA program and the remaining Expanded DACA permits” — amending their successful earlier lawsuit against the expansion of DACA and another program for parents of DACA recipients known as DAPA.
Trump officially canceled DAPA last month, and the newly introduced DREAM Act of 2017 is almost certainly doomed in the current Congress.
For all these reasons, Cosehca and others consider Texas to be “the battleground state in the struggle for immigrant rights in the Trump era,” much the same way Arizona’s passage of its own “show your papers” law SB 1070 galvanized the immigrants rights movement in 2010.
Some local labor and immigrant rights activists criticized the sit-in as the work of a “paracaidista” organization — an “outside” group coming in to “bully” DACA recipients and people with Temporary Protected Status into an action that could jeopardize the fight against SB 4 and put an already vulnerable population at greater risk due to Texas’ exceptionally aggressive anti-immigrant atmosphere.
Such “outside agitator” rhetoric is a common tactic often used against progressive forces by the right. The successful fight against SB 1070 in Arizona shows why it is important for militant actions and strategies to re-emerge within the immigrant rights movement, especially in Texas.
Part of what stopped the worst provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect was the participation of activists from across the country in organizing direct actions and mass demonstrations against the law.
The model of AltoArizona, which called on people in 2010 to “draw the line and say enough is enough…to the criminalization of workers and families,” inspired this year’s call by Texas immigrant rights groups for a Summer of Resistance against SB 4, which kicked off on Memorial Day with hundreds of people coming in from out-of-state to show support for the state’s embattled immigrant community.
The DACA sit-in itself was not a “mass” action, but it fit the call for a “summer of resistance” that was repeated again in early June by Arizona and Texas immigrant rights organizations, who urged “activists and allies from across the country … to organize and mobilize local community members in defiance of unjust racial profiling and criminalization of immigrants, Latinos, and the African American community.”
Cosecha organizers and volunteers arrived in Texas because they understood that Texas has now become the center of the fight against anti-immigrant policies and racism, and participants in the sit-in reflect a clear understanding of what they are fighting for and what’s at stake.
Statements from Texas-based immigrant activists during the action betrayed no signs of “bullying” from out-of-town organizers — just bravery and a clear political understanding of what’s at stake if bullies like Ken Paxton and Donald Trump go unchallenged, showing what kind of movement must be built to stop SB 4, protect DACA and win full equality and respect.
Manuel Ramirez, who was undocumented for 20 years and has only recently gained permanent legal status, explained his reasons for getting arrested: “I’m from Austin, Texas and I’m doing this for my family and sisters who are undocumented and also for my six-month-old son, so that we can live in a world where our human dignity is respected and protected.”
Catalina Adorna, another arrestee and a DACA recipient from San Antonio, told Gus Bova of the Texas Observer that she knew there were “some serious risks [to getting arrested] but…all the small victories the immigrant community has had were the result of people taking risks.”
“People kept asking me if I was afraid,” Adorno told Democracy Now! “I kept telling them that I’m not. I am no longer afraid.”
All four arrested DACA recipients were released from jail late Wednesday evening, and the 11 others, who had refused bail in an act of solidarity with the DACA activists, were released by early Thursday.
There is a legal defense for the released, but despite the Austin’s reputation as a sanctuary from the state’s anti-immigrant policies, the threat remains of ICE retaliation against the four “DACAmented” activists.
Despite these risks, Movimiento Cosecha is “calling on undocumented youth across the country to model the risk that was taken on July 26th” in Texas.
As spokesperson Maria Fernanda Cabello explained it, Cosecha understands “that some will put their hope in DC politicians,” but even small victories like DACA were won “not because of any politician, but because our community took fearless action.”
“We marched, we walked out, we stopped deportations and shut down detention centers. We took risks and put our bodies on the line to tell this country that we were ‘Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unaplogetic’…This moment calls for us to be brave again; to create a moral crisis that will change the narrative on immigration in this country.”
In the days leading up to SB 4’s September 1 implementation date, Cosecha and other organizations plan to continue organizing resistance and building a militant immigrant rights movement.
This includes BastaTX, a campaign of Statewide Days of Action against SB 4 that includes a September 1 Statewide Strike and Youth Rally Against Hate and a Unity March, Rally and Concert on September 2.
The BastaTX campaign states, “We believe that all Texans deserve to live free from racial profiling, free from the fear of deportation, free from detention and free from police violence,” and declares, “we are going to rally, strike and resist to put an end to SB4.”
So far, 33 organizations have endorsed the campaign, including Movimiento Cosecha, Black Sovereign Nation, Fight for 15, Immigrants United, Muslim Solidarity ATX, Organizacion Latina de Trans, Sanctuary UT and the International Socialist Organization.
The struggle for immigrant justice faces many obstacles in its fight to overturn SB 4, protect DACA, and ultimately win permanent protection, dignity and respect for all. But we shouldn’t underestimate what it means that this is a movement made up of courageous young fighters like Catalinia Santiago, whose words on the day of the sit-in will hopefully inspire more resistance:
DACA is under attack while my parents, who are farmworkers, were never even given the temporary protection DACA provides. I am getting arrested today to tell my parents, my community, and the rest of the 11 million that no matter what politicians say, you are worthy and we will not settle for the crumbs they offer us in exchange for being the economic and labor force that sustains this country day in and day out.”
Eric Nava-Perez contributed to this article.