February 24, 2017
Undocumented and #HereToStay
by Cristina Jiménez
We live in dark times, and there is perhaps nothing darker about them than the ways immigrants to this country are being discussed and treated by the current administration and its supporters. We thought it would be an excellent moment to share these words from Cristina Jiménez. Jiménez is the cofounder and executive director of United We Dream, America’s largest immigrant youth-led activist organization, and the essay is culled from What We Do Now, our nationwide bestseller about standing up for progressive values in Trump’s America.
For all intents and purposes, Donald Trump ran his campaign against my family, friends, and community. I grew up undocumented in New York City. My parents, brother, and I moved here when I was thirteen, seeking a better life than we had in our native Ecuador, where there weren’t any jobs and we couldn’t afford food or rent.
Moving to Queens was a shock for my family. Learning English was a challenge. So was dealing with the stop-and-frisk racial profiling policy and the constant fear that my parents would be victims of an immigration raid. It was tough navigating a school where violence was commonplace and where a counselor told me I had no hope of attending college because of my immigration status.
But we survived and made a home. A small number of other young immigrants and I started speaking out. In those days, we used fake names because it was too dangerous to reveal our identities. But in spite of the fear, we organized, asserted our right to not be pushed around, and told the world that we were #HereToStay.
In the history books, our story looks no different from that of the Irish, Germans, or Italians before us. But in the twisted view of Donald Trump and his ardent supporters, we are a menace that needs to be wiped off the face of the country.
I’m now the executive director of a national organization of undocumented immigrant youth called United We Dream. For nearly ten years, we’ve helped undocumented young people recognize their own collective power. Together with our network of local affiliates and allies, we’ve won the ability to get driver’s licenses and to pay fair tuition rates. We’ve protected nearly 800,000 young people across the country from deportation and allowed them to work through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). And from the start, we’ve done it while being true to our values of inclusion.
Under the Trump administration, my parents and brother could be deported. It’s no exaggeration to say that tens of millions of people are terrified. Our members have reported a sickening increase in bullying and harassment, both in schools and on the street.
Immigrants, Muslims, women, queer people, artists, and so many others have worked for years to come out of the shadows in order to live in the light as their true selves; the Trump movement is determined to send us back to a life of terrified silence in the dark.
We will not be terrorized. We will not be silenced.
Indeed, if Trump gets his way, our very existence may become an act of civil disobedience. I am asking all people of conscience to join us at this critical moment and resist.
What has grounded me in this time of deep fear is the resilience of our communities and the eagerness of non-immigrants to fight alongside us for a country that is just and inclusive of everyone. This is the only way forward: local, intersectional organization across movements to protect our communities from hate, racism, and exploitation.
But fighting for justice in this way does not mean diluting the struggles we face with a set of broad messages and strategies. It means showing up for each other when we come under attack, and showing up for each other when we have an opportunity to advance the cause of justice.
We know that this works because we have seen it work.
In Houston, Texas, a racist sheriff lost his reelection campaign in November after immigrant youth joined with black and LGBTQ allies to stop a dangerous policy that let local police work as federal immigration agents. In the county with the most deportations of anywhere in the United States, a wide range of communities worked together to shine a light on the horrific status quo of racial profiling and incarceration in Houston. Because of cross-movement organizing, injustice became a front-page issue, and in that context, those defending the racist status quo lost.
United We Dream members are undocumented, we are U.S. residents and citizens, we are black, white, Muslim, AAPI, and LGBTQ people. We represent the full spectrum of the American experience and are more determined than ever to fight for the right to live as our full authentic selves and to remain unafraid to be loud, bold, and visible in our journey to build a more equitable world.
This is the way forward: local grassroots organizing, the daily practice of using an intersectional and cross-movement lens, and the discipline to do the hard work of building together with diverse communities who share values and vision. We must strategize together because our futures are intertwined. Black, white, Muslim, immigrant, LGBTQ, AAPI communities — all people must build a multiracial movement of love to confront the hateful headwinds we are expecting in the years to come.
Now is the time for white people, people of color, and people of conscience to link arms with Muslims and undocumented people to build a protective network of love between these communities and Trump’s deportation force.
It is time for all of us to consider our place in history, because we are entering a historically significant time.
Life in 2017 will not be the same as it has been this year. There are men who are determined to put women, black people, Latinos, immigrants, workers, Muslims, and queer people “back in their place.” They view political activists with disdain and will stop at nothing to reassert control over all levers of power. But we have come too far, and we won’t turn around.
Most people voted against Donald Trump, and the movements for black lives and for immigrant rights have revealed truths about the way our government works — truths that cannot be unseen. We are #HereToStay and ready to march. Fueled by a burning passion for justice, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.