The Fight to Save DACA Exposes the Sour Side of Complacency Within the Immigrant Rights Movement

By Nancy Meza, Zacil Pech, and Ilse Escobar – Immigrant Womxn of Color, writing in 100° weather last weekend. Laboring for the movement, once again.

Things are getting real really quick. On September 5th, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was rescinded in another attack on our community — on top of deportations, police killings, gentrification, etc. This calls for real movement leaders. There is no time for flimsy advocacy organizations, allies, or immigrant rights “experts” to speak for us. There is no time for those who receive grants by claiming to organize us, or get paid to write about our lives, study us, film us, and further exploit us. We the immigrants, are here to speak for ourselves. We’re tired of fake allyship that calls on immigrants to prove we are deserving of support and solidarity during this crucial moment.

First, we write to our fellow undocumented immigrant community, especially to those younger than us (we are in our late 20s and early 30s). We write to remind us all of the safety nets we have created and of our resiliency as an immigrant community.

Second, we write to all those allies we have come to know over the years. It is no longer enough to be an ally: we need accomplices willing to make concrete sacrifices.  

To our fellow members of the undocumented immigrant community, and to those who benefited from DACA:

Some of you are immigrant adults who do not know how to survive without a social security number, but you are not the majority. You got used to the sugar and the sweetness, the small relief DACA afforded. You have reaped the fruit of the work of the elders: those who crossed borders for a chance at a better life and those who worked tirelessly and risked arrest to give you access to decent paying jobs, education and most importantly, protection from deportation. You have not had to disclose your status to authorities who squinted in suspicion at your foreign identification cards. You are the almost 800,000 immigrants who have selectively forgotten life before DACA. Remember: DACA was never meant to be the end goal of the movement. It was just the beginning.

DACA is no grand prize. It is merely a small win, and we cannot continue to celebrate smalls wins while more than 11 million people remain deportable. Putting ourselves in a selective “Dreamer” category will not garner the strength we need to truly shift power. This moment may be difficult to bear, but we must remember that while we reaped some benefits, the majority of the immigrant community remained under attack. We are not on an equal playing field with those who have the right paperwork. We are fucked. We must now defend all immigrants, not just the selective few who are most politically acceptable. Immigrants have been and will continue to be deemed criminal and illegal, especially by this administration that measures its commitment to “rule of law” by pardoning the racist former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The DACA strategy arose from the frustration of immigrant youth with the reformist direction of the mainstream immigrant rights movement. Nationwide, immigrant youth organizations urged change — change led by undocumented immigrant youth.  Immigrant youth refused to remain silent while President Barack Obama attacked immigrant communities with a record-breaking 5,281,115* deportations. We aptly dubbed him the “Deporter in Chief” .

After a campaign of direct action that garnered national attention, President Obama relented, enacting DACA in June, 2012. It was an exercise of immigrant power used to leverage national policy led by those most directly affected. DACA was not the end goal for the movement, but a stepping stone.

DACA is a product of the immigrant youth movement, but so is the record breaking number of deportations that occurred under President Obama.  History shows that the “good immigrant vs. bad immigrant” narrative has failed us.  Now we must focus on the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. We want to be a movement about justice, dignity and true freedom for all of us.  

One of the largest obstacles to enacting DACA was the Democratic Party and other self-identified allies seeking control of our messaging and organizing. While immigrant youth organizers were building defenses against an ever-expanding deportation force, many around us were more concerned with deflecting blame from President Obama and party leaders than standing with undocumented immigrants.  Immigrant youth organizers achieved DACA through grassroots people power, against the backlash from mainstream immigrant rights organizations (the same ones “defending” DACA today). We cannot allow for these opportunistic organizations and allies to do this to our communities again. We have to learn from our mistakes. We cannot allow them to pit us against one another with that divided narrative. We owe this to ourselves, our youth, and our elders. In this battle, we have a shot at a new start.  It is our duty to fight for us all.

There are many people who did not qualify for DACA, were not able to renew, and never applied because the fee is outrageously expensive. Remember that prior to DACA, we knew how to get jobs, and asked the right questions to see if they would hire us as independent contractors, or without verifying our status with the federal government. Did the lack of documentation make our lives more difficult? It sure did. Still, DACA does not define us. We are more than a work permit. We are more than a social security number. We are more than an economic contribution. We are more than second-class citizens.

We can ask for money when we know we deserve it. We’re creative, in all arenas. Call it art, call it hustle, but we can cook this, draw that, spit this, survive and thrive.

We acknowledge the work of womxn and queer folks that got us this far. This country has long depended on our exploitation. It is time to stop persuading AmeriKKKa that we are good enough. We must DEMAND respect and dignity NOT prove that we deserve it. We will gain our freedom by building people power. We are our own saviors. We will gain our freedom by any means necessary.

We know it has been difficult to get involved. The first step is to believe you deserve more.  We come from a long lineage of resistance. Our families defied the empire! Our relatives crossed borders and overstayed visas because they, too, believed they deserved more. With our eyes wide open, and our bodies deserving of the best, we can stop relying on existing fucked up systems and lead ourselves. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Most importantly, as immigrants living in the belly of the beast we must ask ourselves what impact the decisions and policies we push for and protect have on migrants, refugees, and displaced people all around the globe. We also have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with them.

With the U.S. at the center of the global stage, the actions and demands we make will have a worldwide impact. As we grapple with the constant attacks on our very existence, we are the ones who must lead this moment and demand the true acts of solidarity we will need to remain undeportable and thrive while we take down this administration and its white supremacist policies. The fight for immigrant rights is a fight against white supremacy.

To all those that ask how to help and who say they stand with us:

The continued attacks affect our daily lives in tangible, material ways. We organize because our lives are completely political. We live the struggle, because this country has denied our humanity due to the circumstances of our births. When we step out to recharge, we are doing so to come back stronger leaders.  

No immigrant should have to meet any criteria to gain your support. Our humanity is enough to garner solidarity. We do not need your “solidarity” if it means throwing us and our families under the bus for personal or political gain or providing a resume of contributions we’ve made to the country to garner support. We do not need your solidarity if it defends white supremacy. We do not need your solidarity if you are not centering our lives, our struggles, and our voices.

It is time for a new kind of solidarity.

To be an accomplice, start by asking yourself:

  1. Will you set up human chain blockade if they try to deport one of us?
  2. Will you slash the tires of a law enforcement vehicle when they try to come for us?
  3. Will you help us post bail if we or another undocumented community member is apprehended?
  4. Will you move aside and offer your seat on a immigration panel to an actual immigrant?
  5. Will you hire undocumented workers ?
  6. Will you fight against the forced migration that gentrification inherently creates?
  7. Will you provide shelter and sanctuary to immigrants fighting deportation orders?
  8. Will you finally shatter any notion that the American Dream is something real?
  9. Will you demand that the shadow economies we have built become decriminalized?
  10. Will you listen to us, and follow our lead?

We are the protagonists of our own story. It is not yours to tell. Offer donations, scholarships, jobs, and political connections to get resources and to stop deportations.

Whatever the next steps may be, let’s make sure to learn from the movement lessons of the past and lead with our heads held high. We have been here before. It is up to us to decide what our future will be.


Immigrant Womxn of Color

*Migration Policy Institute- The Obama Record on Deportations: Deporter in Chief or Not?

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