How We Are Building Immigrant Rights Activists
On a sunny Saturday morning, a small group of people gather in a park in Beaverton, Oregon. They are preparing for a day of canvassing to inform voters about why Measure 105 would be devastating for Oregon.
One of the canvassers is Rebeca. She’s 22 years old and in her last semester at college. She wants to be an elementary school teacher. But when she’s not studying, she finds time for activism.
Rebeca is Mexican-American. Her parents moved to the U.S. when they were 17 years old. “Both of my parents came undocumented,” says Rebeca. Her grandfather on her mother’s side came to the U.S. on a work visa and was helping in the fields during harvest seasons. He soon decided to bring his whole family with him because he wanted nothing more than to have his children receive the best education possible. Rebeca’s father was from a poor farm town and came to the U.S. for better work opportunities so that he could help support his parents.
“I joke around and say that most 21-year-olds, they get excited because they can finally drink,” says Rebeca. “But the reason I was excited to turn 21 was because I knew that at 21 I could petition for them.” When a son or daughter of an immigrant turns 21, they can petition for their relative in order for them to receive their Green Card. So that’s what Rebeca did. “And thanks to that, my mom was able to gain her residency at the beginning of the year, and it was like a weight was lifted off of our chests.”
“But at the same time it was bittersweet,” says Rebeca, “because weeks had gone by, but we didn’t get a response about my dad.” Soon, they found out that he had been denied because he wasn’t petitioned before a certain date — a loophole they weren’t unaware of.
“This is somebody that…if you need tax returns, we’ve got them for you. You need road records showing that his driving record is clean? You got it. I think it’s one of those times where, when people argue, ‘Well, if they do things the right way, they can get residency or a Green Card and it’s easy.’ Well, it’s not that easy.”
“It is a system that is broken. And sadly, it’s at the cost of the immigrant,” says Rebeca.
“I tell anybody that my family, we are a united front. We are always together. And when one person isn’t with us, it’s devastating,” says Rebeca. “I’ve lived my entire life with my dad by my side.” She says the possibility of not having him by her side anymore worries her. “My brother is 17 so he needs that male figure, and my dad is that male figure that has really taught him how to be this respectful young man. And my sister, she is 9, and so I think about her.”
Teaching children is Rebeca’s passion, so when the government started separating families at the border and putting children in detention centers this year, it was too much for Rebeca. “That’s what really pushed me over the edge,” she said.
“I think it’s just the whole notion of the lack of value that the current administration gives to human life. The way they are treating immigration issues, as if it’s about objects. And I don’t think they understand that they are literally changing the lives of people. They have peoples’ lives in their hands.”
So Rebeca started to think about ways she could help her community, her family, and all immigrants in Oregon. She heard about Adelante Mujeres’ new program called El Proyecto de Solidaridad Inmigrante — The Immigrant Solidarity Project. “It was kind of like a calling. I knew it was something that I needed to do.”
Rebeca enrolled in Promotors de Inmigracion, our 7-week course which trains Spanish-speaking community members how to be an advocate for immigrant communities in Washington County, Oregon. Students in the training are equipped to respond to community needs and priorities related to immigration; empowering immigrants to lead the immigrant rights movement locally.
Cristina Delgado, Adelante Mujeres’ Immigrant Solidarity Project Coordinator, leads the training. “These past months have involved many meetings, advice, feedback, support and much collaboration,” says Cristina.
Cristina began the Immigrant Solidarity Project with listening sessions facilitated all over Washington County, where Spanish-speaking immigrants could come and voice their biggest concerns or needs surrounding immigrant rights. Then, Cristina compiled the top needs from the listening sessions and immediately began acting on them with the help of the Promotors.
“We envision a community where immigrant families are more informed and ready to defend, advocate, and organize when necessary,” says Cristina.
One of the top concerns voiced in the listening sessions was the lack of information regarding immigration-related services available to families. So Cristina and the Promotors got together and developed a Resource Fair where information was provided about legal funds for families facing immigration detention or deportation, contact information from immigration attorneys, and much more. Rebeca helped coordinate the fair.
“My expectation [of the Promotors training] was to get an understanding of what is being done around the community in regards to immigration, specifically here in Washington County,” says Rebeca. “As I went through the training, it was more than that. A deeper passion grew. Some of the topics were very depressing, but at the same time thought-provoking, to the point where it fueled me to want to do the work more — to really get myself involved.”
In the Beaverton park, Cristina and the others set up their smart phones with the canvassing app, get their scripts and signs ready, and head out into the neighborhoods in hopes of bringing awareness about voting NO on Measure 105.
“If Measure 105 passes, it will create an unsafe environment for immigrants and people of color because it will open a door for more racial profiling and collaboration between law enforcement and ICE,” says Cristina. “One program participant expressed what it was like before the sanctuary law and explained how difficult and unsafe it was to even be on the streets due to fear of being stopped by a police officer who would later turn them into an ICE agent.”
Rebeca and two other canvassers head out, ready to spread the word about Measure 105. She says that with everything she learned from the Promotores de Inmigracion training, she hopes to continue to spread the word and do everything she can to support our immigrant communities. She refuses to lose hope.
“These are troubling times,” says Rebeca. “But if there is one thing that I’ve seen in my community through my experience and through the experience of those that I know who have been going through the immigration system, it’s that the immigrant is resilient.”
Rebeca is ready to stand in solidarity with our immigrants in Oregon. “If they feel like they can’t voice their opinions or they can’t voice their stories, they can definitely talk to us so that we can do it, so that we can make their voices be heard. I’m here to be the voice of anyone who feels that they are voiceless.” And that is exactly what our Immigrant Solidarity Project is all about.
Cristina is proud of the work that the Promotors are already doing.“When I see people most directly impacted by immigration policies participating and engaged in the movement, I feel motivated and hopeful for the future,” says Cristina. With this much progress accomplished by the Immigrant Solidarity Project since its inception just six short months ago, we cannot help but be hopeful about the future of our immigrant communities. Adelante!