The Fight Has Just Begun: A History of Immigrant Activism Needs Your Understanding | News Feature | Indy Week
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The Fight Has Just Begun: A History of Immigrant Activism Needs Your Understanding 

Elisa Hernandez has fought deportations and anti-immigrant policies as an activist since 2010.

Photo by Bryan Pfeifer

Elisa Hernandez has fought deportations and anti-immigrant policies as an activist since 2010.

The news that Donald J. Trump will be our next president has made the immigrant community, particularly those of us who have been on the frontlines to stop deportations and the criminalization of our communities, realize that our fight has only just begun.

It is time to recommit ourselves to this long, difficult, exhausting fight. Immigrants are, once again, under attack.

I have been involved in immigrant-rights activism since 2010, when I met Viridiana Martinez, Rosario Lopez, and Loida Ginocchio-Silva. The undocumented young women were participating in a self-organized hunger strike in Raleigh to push then-Senator Kay Hagan to support the federal DREAM Act. (She refused.)

I had grown up wanting to be an activist, and, although I am not undocumented, I saw my first-generation immigrant experience reflected in these three women. They and undocumented youth across the country have always led the fight for immigrant rights, putting their bodies on the line every single day. I was inspired by their defiance, bravery, knowledge, and by the challenge they presented to the nonprofits that were established to advocate for them but instead tried to silence them for being too political.

Martinez, Lopez, Ginocchio-Silva, and others would go on to become cofounders of the NC Dream Team, a group led by immigrant youth and trusted allies. As part of the group, I quickly learned the ins and outs of stopping a community member's deportation through campaigns, the importance of social media in spreading the word, how to effectively communicate with the press, and the power in assisting and eventually participating in civil disobedience to push elected officials to act. The same year I joined NCDT, I began my freshman year of college to become a teacher.

It is important to note that, in this time of great need for grassroots organizing, the marginalized undocumented community doesn't have the privilege to register a nonprofit. And for many of us, choosing not to is a resistance to an unfair system. We have never received funding or been paid for our work in the community. Beyond this being a logistical challenge, local nonprofit organizations with a marketing capacity have taken credit for our work and have been funded for projects that barely scratch the surface of what we have accomplished over the years.

The most rewarding feeling in stopping someone's deportation is to see the smiles and tears on the faces of families upon receiving the good news. The losses, however, stay with me. I still wonder, to this day, if I did enough, if I could have done something differently to keep a family together. We have had to fight tooth and nail, give up time with our families, travel extensively, and forgo taking care of ourselves to aid our communities over the years.

We did this work until about 2015. We were all incredibly burned out. Members had come and gone, some going on to school, transitioning into various careers that their advocacy had opened the doors to and passing on this work to younger generations. Then, late last year, came word that the Obama administration would begin immigration raids and detain Central American refugees. Viridiana Martinez, Ivan Almonte, I, and others created a hotline in early January to address the needs of the community. We were inundated with calls from all over the country. Our community was in a panic. There were many false alarms, but in late January we got the call about Wildin Acosta, a Durham teenager being detained outside of his home as he prepared to drive to Riverside High School. Young men were being detained from all over North Carolina—in Charlotte, in Thomasville. They were handcuffed outside of their homes and at their school bus stops. We sprang into action using all that we had learned over the years. We fought for Wildin with the help of his teachers and the local community. He was released from detention in August. Others were, too, but just this past week, two days after the election, teenager Pedro Salmeron of Charlotte was deported.

All of this happened under a Democratic administration, one that has deported at least two million immigrants, many of them youths like Wildin. President Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president. This is a clear indication that immigrants can trust neither party, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans.

Today, with Donald Trump as our next president, the fight for immigrant rights must be stronger. He has already stated his plans to immediately deport three million people. I think of all the families that are in fear right now and how I have to recommit myself to this movement, to my community. We must not turn our backs on immigrants, regardless of their immigration history, and we must drop the rhetoric that continues to criminalize these people. No immigrant deserves to remain in the country more than any other. I will fight like hell today, tomorrow, and every single day. Will you? Because we need you on our side.

This article appeared in print with the headline "The Fight Has Just Begun."


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