5 Undocumented Activists On How To Fight For Immigrants’ Rights
If it seems like the fight for immigrants' rights has been in the news more than usual lately, you're not wrong. On Sept. 13, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer allegedly struck a deal with Trump to protect the 800,000 undocumented immigrants who had received protection under the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced its end on Sept. 5. If the deal is able to happen, and DACA is enshrined in law, it would make life so much easier for the almost 1 million undocumented people living in the United States, but some activists were frustrated that the deal was made without the input of undocumented people. Iván Ceja, director and co-founder of Undocumedia, posted on social media after the deal was announced, saying, “Democrats, could you refrain [from making] agreements without us in the room?”
The recent attacks on DACA recipients have made it clear that anyone who cares about immigrant rights needs to be taking their cues from immigrants themselves. And beyond that, allyship and support must take into account the human rights of all undocumented people, not just DREAMers and DACA recipients. As immigrant rights activist Joel Sati writes in The Washington Post:
DACA, for all its benefits, was a Faustian bargain that we never should have struck. Our movement must make a fundamental shift in how we frame our experience in the struggle for substantive immigration protections: safety from deportation, citizenship for all 12 million, and a reconceptualization of political membership in such a way that the situation we face never happens again. We deserve this not because we are good, but because we are human beings.
Bustle spoke with five leaders in the immigration rights movement about the advice they have for fellow undocumented immigrants, and what allies can do to support them during this period of uncertainty.
Jonathan Jayes-Green, Co-Founder of UndocuBlack Network
Jonathan Jayes-Green is the co-founder of the UndocuBlack Network, an organization that advocates for the undocumented Black community. UndocuBlack created a network of current and former undocumented Black folks, and offers a multitude of resources like webinars, local chapters (so far in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.), and is soon releasing a housing, legal, health, and educational resource guide. Additionally, UndocuBlack is in the process of developing a mental wellness initiative for the undocumented Black community. "This fight to protect undocumented people like myself across the country isn't just about protecting DACA, TPS and passing the DREAM Act," Jayes-Green tells Bustle via email. "This fight is linked to the greater fight against white supremacy that deems our communities as disposable, and that's a lie. We as undocumented people know we are powerful, resilient, and we are not going anywhere."
When Jayes-Green was asked about advice he would give to undocumented folks who are afraid to participate in activism because of their status, his response is precise and powerful. "Find community, build together, and fight back. We are only safe when we're organized and building power. "
Heldáy de la Cruz, Graphic Designer and Activist
Heldáy de la Cruz is an artist (check out his breathtaking illustrations) and activist based in Portland, Oregon. De la Cruz has been advocating for immigrations rights on multiple platforms, from radio interviews to writing an op-ed for The Huffington Post. When speaking to Bustle via email, de la Cruz rhetorically asks, "America, how can you give us a taste of freedom, snatch it away, and not expect us to fight for it?" He goes on to explain:
"Mi papa would say that I'm 'encabronado' ['I'm pissed off'], mi mama would say 'que parezco tormenta' ['I'm boiling over']. I feel the centuries of oppression running through my veins, the cycle of abuse towards immigrants and people of color — again and again and again. I'm not hiding in the shadows anymore; I don't feel guilt for my status like I used to. I will never blame my parents for being pushed out of their country."
Keep up with de la Cruz by following his Instagram.
Yosimar Reyes, Storyteller and Writer
Through spoken word, poetry, and writing, Yosimar Reyes beautifully encapsulates the experience of living in the United States while undocumented. In addition to live performances, Reyes has multiple published works. Reyes explains how undocumented folks are constantly marginalized in the United States in an email to Bustle:
"Undocumented people are the most played in the political spectrum. I want to remind people that being undocumented is not an identity — much like poverty, it is a social condition. I want to remind people who happen to be undocumented that this [current policies affecting undocumented folks] is not our fault. We are home."
Reyes also had a reminder for folks who want to be better allies to the undocumented community. "I would like to remind well-meaning allies that they need to begin letting us have our own platforms," he says. "We need allies that understand that we are not puppies that need saving. We are people with agency and the ability to advocate for yourself. Want to help? Pass the mic!"
Ximena Ospina, LGBTQ Coordinator Intern at NYSYLC
Ximena Ospina is an unstoppable force in the activist community. Not only is she the LGBTQ coordinating intern for NYSYLC, an immigration rights organization that is led by undocumented youth in New York, but she is also the co-founder and media chair for Columbia University's first undocumented student community, Undocumented Student Initiative.
"I'd like for undocumented folx to understand that their fears are valid, and it is absolutely normal to crack under the pressure mounting from the recent DACA decision," Ospina tells Bustle via email. "Moving forward, we have to allow ourselves humanity and not be so self-punishing if we are not proving every second of our lives that we deserve to stay in the United States."
Ospina also reminds fellow undocumented immigrants that "We must acknowledge that psychological warfare is Trump's most powerful tool, and we cannot let white supremacist policies convince us that we do not deserve to be seen, applauded, and loved." She suggests that undocumented folks who do not or cannot reveal their status can still be vocal activists by supporting other movements seeking to dismantle white supremacy, such as Black Lives Matter, #NoJusticeNoPride, and the Water Is Life Movement.
Alan Pelaez Lopez, Poet
Alan Pelaez Lopez is an Afro-Indigenous poet and artist and an immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, who lived in the United States while undocumented for 17 years. Recounting their advocacy experience, Lopez tells Bustle, "I started organizing for the immigrant rights movement in 2010 before the DREAM Act votes occurred. In the past seven years, I have learned that our asks have been very small as a movement, and exclusionary."
Lopez, who is self-described "artivist," often explores their multiple identities and eloquently advocates for inclusivity through their work. Lopez says "I invite all of us to fight for DACA and begin to prioritize undocumented disabled immigrants, elders, and trans and gender-nonconforming communities who all experience undocumentedness in incredibly challenging ways."
"I also want to remind all of us that we are more than policy," they say. "We are people who are living, thriving and changing both politics and culture with or without documentation."