On June 14, more than 200 people from all corners of the Bay Area streamed to El Cerrito to protest the administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border.
Filling all corners of the large intersection, we chanted, sang, and cheered for the clenched fists raised in solidarity and supportive honks from the constant stream of cars.
Organizers provided background information and ways to take further action, and got more than 150 signatures on a petition to deliver to our Members of Congress, asking them to go to the border and find out the facts.
More demonstrations are planned. Nationwide, find and/or organize a event. If you’re in the Bay Area, check that list (events are added frequently) and follow the Indivisible East Bay and El Cerrito Shows Up facebook pages. Also, see our articles for actions you can take, including how to pressure our Members of Congress and other ways to help.
Remember these key words:Power, not panic.Those words will help you find the website of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, which has a treasure trove of info on protecting yourself and your community against ICE and fighting misinformation.
Keep in mind:
First and foremost: Know your rights. Know whether or not you are safe from ICE, and to what extent your immigration status, if any, would be impacted by an arrest.
Document what you see ICE doing. We recommend downloading the ACLU’s free Mobile Justice – CA app, which automatically uploads video from your smartphone to the ACLU Northern California office. This keeps the footage safe if enforcement officials try to delete it or confiscate your phone.
If ICE comes to your home, you don’t have to let them in unless they show you a warrant. They will sometimes wave bits of paper that aren’t warrants around and say that they are warrants; they can and will bend the law to gain entrance to your home.
If you are arrested, remain silent, and ask to speak to a lawyer.
The ACLU has precise instructions on how to handle an ICE raid on your home in Spanish and in English.
“Liberty and Justice for All” – these are words we don’t always associate with this administration’s immigration policy. But Contra Costa Deputy Public Defender Immigration Attorney Ali Saidi informed and inspired a large crowd in El Sobrante on January 27 about “Immigration Realities” and the new, innovative Stand Together CoCo immigrant rapid-response program. Courageous Resistance / Indivisible El Sobrante – Richmond hosted the talk, which was attended by local political leaders, community members, and representatives of progressive groups including Indivisible East Bay and CA-11 Team United.
Saidi outlined Stand Together CoCo, which will officially begin on March 1 and will provide wide-ranging education and support services and some legal consultation and services. Among these services:
Paid community responders will staff a 24/7 hotline to verify and provide accurate information about immigration-related activities reported in the community.
Team members will be dispatched when necessary to respond to reports of ICE raids.
Legal observers will document and collect data.
Community Supporters will provide immediate support to families and individuals who have been targeted or detained.
When possible, lawyers will meet with detainees (at present, there is funding for only three lawyers).
The program will also hold education and support events all over the county, including Know Your Rights, legal consultation and services, workshops for people detained in the West County Detention Facility, clinical consultations, and training for trainers/leadership development.
The audience was eager to hear how it could help, and Saidi provided a Volunteer Interest Form with a variety of ways community members can step up to support immigrant neighbors and friends. The volunteer program, which is being administered primarily by Catholic Charities of the East Bay, is looking for people interested in conducting Know Your Rights presentations or helping with outreach to spread the word about immigrant rights and the hotline; presenters to assist at community meetings; supporters who can accompany people to ICE appointments or help them find resources; and more.
If you want to volunteer to help, please fill out the online volunteer application. Have questions? You can email Joseline Gonzalez Soriano, Stand Together CoCo’s Interim Coordinator, for information. More info will be posted soon on the Catholic Charities’ website.
You can also help by spreading the word about Stand Together CoCo and other rapid response networks. See this list of networks in California to report ICE activity and enforcement. To report ICE action in Contra Costa before March 1, contact Alameda County’s rapid response program, ACILEP, at 510-241-4011.
Saidi, whose family moved from Tehran, Iran, to Los Angeles when he was five years old, recalled that he didn’t really understand the Pledge of Allegiance when he said it in school for the first time, but he liked the sound of the final words: “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Saidi encouraged the audience to work for “liberty and justice for all,” and emphasized that the words are not a description of what America is but of what it might be – and that “pledge” means committing to putting in the work to reach the goal. We at Indivisible East Bay could not agree more.
Every year Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains thousands of immigrants nationwide, including many lawful US residents, for reasons ranging from anonymous tips to criminal arrests. The immigrants are incarcerated in detention centers; as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) puts it, this practice “removes people from their families and communities, endangers their houses, jobs, public benefits and healthcare, and prevents them from adequately defending their right to remain in their home.“
Detained immigrants aren’t provided an attorney to navigate the legal system, and most can’t afford the $3,411 average bond to be released while waiting for a hearing. It’s not unusual for immigrants to wait years for a hearing while remaining behind bars, away from family and unable to work. In 2014, more than 50% of detainees in Northern California had lived in the United States for 10 years or more; 77% had families in the United States; and 65% had jobs before entering detention. Families are literally broken apart by the system. To address this injustice, CIVIC initiated the Bay Area Bond Fund, a revolving fund to ensure that immigrants can fight their deportation cases outside the confines of jail, in their communities, reunited with their family and friends.
Artists for Humanity, a local artist and cultural activist group, is holding a benefit to support the Bay Area Bond Fund on January 28, from 2:30-5:30 PM at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley. The concert features dancers Calpulli Huey Papalotl Cultural Group; musicians Dance Chant; jazz band Humanistic featuring Otoe Mori on saxophone, Greg German on drums, and Vince Khoe on keys; and powerful poetry by local artist and activist Pennie Opal Plant. Suggested donation $10-$30. See more information about the program here.
Sherry Drobner is an adult literacy advocate in the city of Richmond.
On September 19, 2017, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the development of Stand Together CoCo, a county-wide immigrant rapid-response program. The innovative pilot, designed to operate from January 1, 2018 to June 30, 2020, will provide community education and support services for immigrants in Contra Costa, as well as no-cost defense services for low-income county residents at risk of deportation. The program, proposed by the Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and fast-tracked by the Board of Supervisors, will be managed by the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office.
On January 27 at 2 PM at Hope Lutheran Church in El Sobrante, Contra Costa Deputy Public Defender Immigration Attorney Ali Saidi will speak about the new rapid response program, including how we can get involved and volunteer. Saidi will also give an overview of local and national immigration realities, including an update on the implementation of SB 54, California’s Sanctuary State bill.
No access to bathrooms, only to plastic bags. Hours-long lockdowns. Federal immigration detainees at the West County Detention Facility have documented these and other complaints in a September letter signed by 27 inmates to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a group that monitors jails where immigrants are detained.
The Contra Costa County Sheriff – whose office has a $6 million-a-year contract with ICE to operate the immigration detention center – is investigating the allegations of mistreatment raised by the detainees.
The allegations were publicly revealed in a San Francisco Chronicle article on November 2, and the newspaper has further investigated the story:
The reports have raised concerns among state elected officials. Reportedly, Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) has scheduled a tour of the jail on November 27, and State Senator Nancy Skinner has urged California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a letter to probe conditions at the jail.
What you can do:
Please call your elected officials and say:
Hi. My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m with Indivisible East Bay. As the SF Chronicle has reported, immigration detainees at the ICE facility at West County Detention Center in Richmond are alleging abuse and mistreatment. Please move quickly to conduct a thorough, independent investigation to insure that their rights are upheld and that conditions do not put their health at risk.
Call State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and ask him to investigate, as Sen. Nancy Skinner has reportedly asked him to do. Public Inquiry Unit: (916) 210-6276 or (800) 952-5225
Other ways to help:
Nancy Burke, of Courageous Resistance / Indivisible El Sobrante & Richmond, is organizing a meeting with the sheriff who runs the West County Detention Center to bring the community’s concerns to her attention. The meeting will focus on 10 points of concern about conditions at the facility. Please contact Nancy by email or phone: (510) 932-9267if you have questions or you’re interested in attending the meeting.
Save the date to help support CIVIC(the group to whom the detainees sent theletter) in their work to end the isolation of West County immigration detainees. Artists for Humanity invites all to an afternoon of music, poetry, and dance, January 28, 2018, 2:30 to 5:00 PM at Ashkenazin Berkeley. The benefit concert (asking for a sliding scale donation) will create a revolving bail fund to be used by West County detainees to reunite with their families and gain legal representation. Email for more information.
Last week we published the first part of an Indivisible East Bay member’s interview with Lara, a DACA recipient. Our last question was whether her parents felt they made the right decision in moving to the United States. Lara ended her response with: “When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.” We continue with Part 2:
How are your siblings handling it?
I think they’re used to me being the strong one. They don’t really ask how I’m doing. Out of my 4 siblings, only one asked me how I was doing after the news. They’re used to me not depending on them. I’ve been so independent for so many years, they assume that I’m okay. They know I don’t allow myself to sit in the pity pool too long. But I know deep down inside, this time around they really are concerned because this administration is not playing; they are really on a mission to make peoples’ lives extremely complicated. Even though they haven’t expressed it, I know that they really are concerned for me this time. I know them and this is their way of not discouraging me.
I think they’re more worried about how I might respond one day, with the wrong person. Not so much if I’m going to get deported, but, for example, if I’m at an event representing Dreamers and someone says something that pushes me over the edge.
Are your siblings politically active?
No, they leave it to me. And it’s so unfair. I tell them, how is it the undocumented one is at the forefront of things? Their answer is “Because we don’t have to. We were born into this privilege.” They haven’t had to fight for anything, so they’re not really concerned.
So…they don’t have to fight for you?
Exactly! And so I said, what about me? “Eh, you’re good at fighting for yourself.” So I envy the families that are there for each other because my siblings live in their own world, chasing their own dreams. I’ve always been so independent, vocal, and active, I guess they’ve never cared to involve themselves because of that. Maybe they see how worked up and exhausted I get, and there’s no off button sometimes, maybe that turns them off. They see how consuming it can be.
But, it’s also because they’re just selfish and immature. I haven’t been home in over 10 years, so they haven’t been there to see me break down. I did it so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. I didn’t want them to see me cry, so I purposefully moved out so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do.
You found out about your status when you were in high school. After that, did you see you and your siblings differently?
We were so poor growing up and my dad worked two to three jobs for years. We don’t get Medicaid, food stamps, financial help of any kind, so you depend on your community, neighbors, church. We lived in a two bedroom apartment. Four of us in one room, my parents in the other, until we finally moved to our first house. It was a bad ugly house and my dad and his uncles fixed it up. My siblings all grew up in a house, but I remember living like sardines and dealing with cockroaches.
I’m happy they were able to have their own bed. I’m glad they didn’t have to deal with the cheap Payless shoes and getting bullied for having the same cheap clothes or backpack, and all the things growing up poor entails. But from the very beginning, I always knew we were going to have a very different life.
When I got older after high school, when I saw how hard it was going to be to even find a job, I said I have to get out of here because I don’t want them to see me like this. I was bitter and angry and I resented the situation. I didn’t want to infect them with my bitterness. I had always been the strong, positive, happy, bossy big sister and wanted them to keep that image of me and not the angry, resentful, bitter one. So I moved out. But when I have tried to share what it was like living on my own without them, I feel they don’t want to accept it and instead, play it down.
When you see that people aren’t willing to hear your story for what it is or want to hear what you have to say, then you stop sharing. But, my parents know everything. I shared everything with them, especially the bad experiences with managers and customers who called me every terrible discriminatory name. That’s a bond that my siblings may resent a little bit because my parents understand my pain. I’m grateful that at least I have always had my parents patience, compassion and understanding.
What are your parents going to do?
For now, I think they are going to move to a smaller property. They came for the American dream and they want to leave us an inheritance. They worked very hard and want to leave us houses and properties just like White Americans. They came to break that stereotype and leave a legacy for their children. They won’t let this discourage them. They taught me to be strong. Like most people, they wanted to be more successful and prosperous than their parents. You always want to be more successful than the previous generation. They’re leaving the bar really high for us.
What do they think their lives would have been like if they stayed in Mexico?
I don’t know. My dad probably would have finished being an engineer. But there’s no way they would have been able to give us an education or the safety to do the things we’ve wanted, be involved in the things we’ve been involved in–music, dance, sports, etc. Most of our family is still there. I probably would have grown up knowing my grandparents — I’ve seen them a handful of times, but I don’t know either side. I have no relationship with them or my uncles, aunts, cousins.
How do you think your lives are different than your relatives in Mexico?
It’s black and white. I see pictures of the homes they live in — dirt floors or cement floors. The quality of the houses, the sizes of the room, the clothes they wear, the diet they have — it’s what’s affordable. My parents are seen as more prosperous in comparison.
If we know anyone who is traveling there for the holidays, we always send stuff. Mostly clothes, shoes, school materials — binder paper, pencils, crayons, everything. Money every month to my grandparents to help. My grandparents were blue collar workers and farmers, so there’s little to no pension or retirement. Now that they’re older, we help take care of them and pay their bills. We send what we can. Had we stayed there … I don’t know. I don’t think my siblings would have been able to explore and experiment in the arts, music, and sports the way they have here. I wouldn’t have found a purpose or reason to become socially active at the capacity I have done. It’s safer here — over there, it can mean death a lot of the time if you get too loud or political. Here, at least I know I can be socially active and it won’t cost me my life. I don’t think I would be the person I am. I’d probably be like my cousins — at least we’re here together, at we have food, clothes, a bed. But being part of this country and raised with the idea that you can do better if you sacrifice more and work harder, I can never imagine myself being satisfied with just making it. You always hear about the American dream and reaching for new heights — I wouldn’t have this personality, I think. I wouldn’t be such a fighter, such a life hustler.
You don’t hear about the equivalent in Mexico, “The Mexican Dream.”
There isn’t. I guess the Mexican dream is, you have a little house you can leave for your kid, that you probably built yourself with your parents, siblings and cousins. But here, it’s so different. I’m so proud of my parents for the American dream they’ve accomplished. They have left such an amazing legacy and high standards for us. They came with a baby and a bag of clothes and they’ve accomplished so much, even with their limited legal status. They instilled a work ethic, and stressed that discipline and sacrifice is essential for anything you want. To be willing to always pay that price — so essential for any goal. That’s the Mexican Dream.
When they left, did they know people here?
Yes. They stayed with my mom’s sister for a few months until they had enough money to rent a room. When my mom got pregnant with my brother, we moved to a one bedroom apartment.
Was it common for other aunts and uncles to come to the US?
Yes, but only In the 80s. Just a few of us lived here. My parents are the only homeowners in our entire family. It required extra hard work, extra discipline that many families weren’t willing to do. My parents had a dream, so they agreed on what we were going to have to live without and were willing to do whatever it took. It’s interesting to see that now they’re the only ones among those who came over in the 80’s who are considered “successful”. But so much of what Trump is doing against my community, it’s bringing back a lot of the same anxiety. We’re going to make it. We’ll figure it out as a family the way we always do.
How has your husband been handling it?
He is awesome. Fortunately my husband is a citizen. If both of us were undocumented, it would be double the stress and double the what-ifs. He’s very much like me — very optimistic, positive and he’s also a life hustler. Always finds a way to survive. We’ll find a way and we have faith that God will provide for us as a unit, to help my case and my situation. My husband lets me go through the motions and isn’t judgmental. He doesn’t pretend to understand what I’m feeling, because he’s never experienced my life. HIs patience with me is ridiculous and he’s the most empathetic person I know. He never claims to understand the struggle of being undocumented, though he’s learning what it’s like to be married to a strong undocumented woman!
When you socialize or when he talks to people, I guess he doesn’t talk about your status.
When he thinks of me, he thinks of me the person, so it doesn’t really come up. But folks invited us, for example, on a cruise and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t. We are very honest people and honesty gives opportunities for growth and knowledge. I see it as a way to share my story and help people be grateful for their privilege. There are privileges I have as an undocumented person that I take for granted all the time, like being able-bodied. I don’t mind sharing my story when appropriate. It doesn’t come up as much now, as a couple. In my 20s, I could never order a beer or a glass of wine when I was out with my friends or on a date, but now I have an ID. I never told anyone why until my late 20’s.
Being married has changed a lot about how (politically) active I am. It’s also made it easier to see the priorities. Maybe I should leave all of the rallying and protesting to the younger generation. I feel confident that I served my time. I did that already, in the early years. It’s their turn to take the torch and keep fighting the good fight.
A huge thank you to Lara for sharing her story–this is not the last we’ll hear from her, to be sure. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn how to verify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity and be a legal observer to protect our communities from ICE! The Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP) invites you to join its team of volunteer responders to resist ICE raids and deportations. Rehearse critical and creative tactics for effective action. No legal experience or knowledge is necessary.
Please sign up for one of the volunteer trainings:
When: Tuesday October 3, 6-9 PM
Where: SEIU-USWW; 3411 East 12th Street, Suite 200, Oakland, CA (at Fruitvale BART)
Where: EDEN CHURCH, 21455 Birch St., Oliver Hall, Hayward, CA 94541 (on-site parking available)
The workshop will be held in Oliver Hall, on the north side of the church campus. A free community lunch for all workshop participants will be served at 1 pm in Oliver Hall.
Please REGISTER for either training by filling out this form. Questions? Email email@example.comIf you can’t volunteer please spread the word.
ACILEP, a network of several immigrant rights organizations, provides rapid response and legal services for families targeted by ICE activity. It is a partnership of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa Just Cause, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Oakland Community Organizations, Street Level Health, the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, Centro Legal de la Raza, and the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office Theater of the Oppressed Assistance from Starr King School for the Ministry.
Many of us likely know people who are DACA recipients, but they may not feel safe enough to tell anyone other than close friends and family about their status.
Meet Lara. Lara’s parents, hoping for a better life, brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was one year old. Lara is a DACA recipient. An Indivisible East Bay member interviewed her a couple of days after Trump announced his decision to terminate DACA. This is Part One of Lara’s story.
How are you feeling?
I’m okay. Trump’s made it very clear that his interest is not about the people—it’s about whatever makes political sense to him. I wasn’t surprised. He said, “Don’t worry Dreamers, you don’t have anything to worry about”–I had hopes that when he said we didn’t have a lot to worry about, that we actually didn’t have a lot to worry about, but I should have known.
I’m okay now. I’ve cried it out, screamed it out, spoken with a lot of other DACAmented folks and Dreamer students and, it’s disappointing and discouraging, but we’ve been here before. We’re just going to have to find a way to survive and keep going. I’m in a good place. It helps when people who are outside of your DACAmented community offer hope and are supportive.
Did you go to any of the protests?
I didn’t, and one of the reasons why I don’t do those anymore is because if anything happens, not of my doing but if something were to go bad, if alt-right people show up, if there’s a confrontation and the police show up, I know what’s going to happen to me. I can’t afford to risk deportation. If I was still working in a restaurant, still renting a room in a poor neighborhood, or wasn’t married, then maybe. But now I have a great apartment, an awesome job, and am married, so I have much more to lose. I think of those things and can’t risk losing them over a protest. Not to talk down to those who chose to participate and are in my same situation, but that is a risk I no longer choose to take.
Do things feel worse now?
Yes. Because before when we would protest and rally, there weren’t people waiting to physically fight us and there weren’t SWAT police with guns pointed at us. There weren’t agents from ICE waiting to round us up, the way they are now. We always knew it could happen but now there’s a militarized cop presence. We didn’t have to worry about crazy white guys showing up with swastikas. The concerns were always there in the back of our minds, but they weren’t in our face the way they are now. It’s not worth me risking my job, my actual life, putting my husband in that position, stressing my parents out, over a movement that is always going to be there. I just can’t afford to be the one getting arrested any more.
Are you careful about how you reveal your status?
Most people who are close to me know because I’ve been so vocal these last few years. So, I’m not afraid of people seeing my Facebook posts or my views being seen or heard by the public. All the information I share is never my personal, private info. It’s more about information and resources to assist others. I’m very careful about what I do post and am selective about who I accept on my FB page.
When you graduated from High School, what did you think your future was going to be?
My dream was to go straight to a university and not waste time with community college, and become a lawyer. But discovering my status brought all that to a complete stop. It’s the story of most of us. Every single dreamer I know, we all have the same story. We didn’t know until the end of high school when we tried to apply for drivers’ permits. Otherwise, when do you ever ask your parents for your social security number? Until you need your driver’s license. When I was told that there is no social security number, that I can’t have a way of acquiring a license and I can’t go to university because I don’t qualify for financial aid and I don’t qualify for scholarships, that was just like wait, what do you mean? But I’ve been here in the US my entire life. I asked them: “Can’t I just apply to become a citizen?” My parents explained that no, because you’re Mexican–the laws are different.
I had known people who had come here from other countries who had become legalized quickly, but saw over the years how much harder it was for people from Mexico. It was devastating. So I decided, I’m just going to graduate now. I’d always been ahead in my classes, so as a junior I was already taking the 4th year of English. I took economics and government over the summer and graduated a year early so I could get a head start on community college. Since I knew it might take me longer than most people to go through community college, I started earlier and finished in two years at Delta College in Stockton. But even with that, I learned that nobody wanted to hire me with just an AA and especially without a social security number. I decided I had to go to a university and get a degree, but I also needed to work, so I started working a full time job and a part time job. I enrolled at De Anza College and got a paralegal degree. I thought to myself, if I can’t be a lawyer, at least let me be a paralegal and get my foot in the door. And no one would hire me because I didn’t have a social security number. The attorneys would all say: “You know you seem like a great girl with lots of enthusiasm, but I can’t hire you.”
Just attorney after attorney–it was devastating.
“Just give me a chance, pay me cash, you can pay me a lot less than the other paralegals,”I would say.
But they all said “No, it’s too risky, how can I as an attorney hire you under the table?”
One attorney finally gave me a chance–she gave me an internship and was also the attorney who did my initial DACA application. so it wasn’t until 2012 that I got a real chance. I was her intern and we did a lot of DACA cases and family law. I thought I wanted to do family law, but working with her, I realized I could never be an attorney. It was a good experience because it made me realize law wasn’t what I should be doing in life. It also made me see that many people needed help finding resources. A lot of these small cases were due to the lack of information.
So even though I started at Delta College, then years later went back to attend De Anza, I couldn’t get a real job so I kept all the other jobs–waitressing, being a nanny, cleaning houses. When DACA passed, I said okay, this is my chance to go back to school. When I do get my degree, I’ll have a chance to have a real job. Through AB 540, I could pay resident fees but it was hard to get scholarships. Thankfully, the California Dream Act had just passed, so I was able to apply for financial aid for the first time. [Ed note: Under California law AB 540, certain non-resident students are exempt from paying non-resident supplemental tuition. A student granted an AB 540 exemption is charged in-state tuition and fees].The lawyer convinced me to go back to school. By the time I’m done, I’ll be able to work and that’s what happened.
When your parents told you about your status, were you upset?
Oh yes, I was furious! All my plans went out the window completely. Not just the driver’s license, but everything. I was mad at them for a long time. Not having legal status affected so many little things. I remember when my friends turned 18 and wanted to go dancing or celebrate at a club, I couldn’t go because I didn’t have a California ID. In my 20s I never went to a bar or club that wasn’t Hispanic-related or a smaller venue where they would accept my Mexican consulate ID. I never joined my friends anywhere because I didn’t have the “proper” ID. Forget about going out to dance with friends, a Vegas trip or a vacation somewhere. Every time someone wanted to go out and celebrate, I would have to call the place and ask if they accepted the Mexican ID. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself and have them embarrass me again, which had happened before. Not all places accept it even though it’s a government issued ID. It’s where my understanding of racial discrimination first started.
To go from the kind of work you were doing — under the table, unprotected — to working in a professional capacity, what did that mean to you?
I served as a waitress for 11 years — from when I was 20 to 31. I worked at multiple restaurants: Denny’s, Applebee’s, mom and pop restaurants, catering jobs. And of course, those jobs are honorable, but they’re hard, physically straining jobs. Long hours and for years I worked at two or more restaurants, back to back. Especially if (customers) know you’re undocumented, they can get away with more exploitation than with citizen employees. Last year was the first year I’d spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day with my family. I had worked every single holiday before last year, for over 10 years. Places like Denny’s never close. I never got to spend any of the holidays with my family, I always had to work.
Was that common to others or just undocumented folks?
Just to the undocumented folks. As long as you could get the hours on the clock…it was just so complicated. They could go back and change the hours that you worked. It was really hard to endure and especially because the people who come in, they think you’re just an object that is there to serve. You’re there to serve them, to the deepest definition of what it is to serve, and they always use you as a punching bag to let out their frustration.
It was really hard at the end when I was going to grad school because I would serve these people who would speak at me as though I were this ignorant, uneducated “thing” that was just there to bring them their extra ranch or diet no ice, when in reality I was busting my butt to work full-time there and be in grad school full-time. I wanted to say “You have no idea how hard I’m working and how hard I’m trying to make it.” But you can’t say that, right? You can’t say you’re not the ignorant person they think you are and they treat you as. I had to quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so burned out. People don’t say “please and thank you” and it’s common for folks to not use manners with servers. I knew I was going to get fired if I didn’t quit, that I was going to snap, so I just quit at the end. But it’s really hard, especially on the holidays when all you want is to be with your family so bad. The pay is only minimum wage. You work for so many hours at minimum wage and tips.
Have you been back to Mexico?
No. I was born there and went back for one Christmas when I was 5 before things got hard at the border, and that was it. I never went back.
Being a young adult, it really sucked at first, driving without a license which meant that I would have to have a cheap car that I could afford to lose, because if they pull you over, they could impound your car. It was really common before DACA to have a cheap car and be ready to get the next one. Most places won’t give car insurance if you don’t have a social security number. You’d get ticketed for driving without a license and your car would be impounded, and then you’d be stuck. You still have to go to work, pick up your kids. It was really frustrating to know I couldn’t have a nice car. Just the constant fear — when a cop would pull up behind you — trying to look as “normal” as you can. But it’s hard when you can’t have a decent looking car, right? Because you make yourself stand out more by having a cheap-looking car. It’s like a never-ending circle of bad circumstances.
Do your parents feel like they made the right decision?
They have always carried guilt because of me. They wish they had come before I was born. They have always felt so bad for putting me in this situation. But they had no way of knowing — they were 20 years old when they came here, searching for the American dream. They could have never foreseen all this. It’s better here than there. At least here, you can have a decent place to live and food to eat, kids can have a decent education. Just the safety reasons alone make it worth coming over here. People don’t understand how bad it is in Mexico. It’s not just like they show you on TV–it’s actually a lot worse. They carried guilt for years and years and I probably didn’t make it any easier when I was a teen. Once I started seeing that those were the cards I was dealt, and that I had to make them work, I decided because I was the oldest of 5, I didn’t want my parents to worry about me. I never asked them for financial help, ever. I didn’t care if I had to have two jobs, I never wanted them to have to worry about me. They hated that I worked graveyard and they never saw me on holidays, but they were proud I was doing what I needed to do to survive. I wasn’t just feeling bad for myself. I just did what I had to do.
When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.
We’ll post Part 2 of Lara’s story next week. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rally Tuesday afternoon at Highland Hospital in Oakland felt from the start more like a simple show of love and support than a tool that would actually protect Maria and Eusebio Mendoza-Sanchez from deportation. The day was chilly and overcast, the crowd on the edge of tears. Two days after nazis murdered a woman in Charlottesville, the chanted words “No hate. No fear.” rang hollow. “No ban. No wall.”? The Supreme Court has allowed the refugee ban to take effect. The House has approved funding for the wall. “Immigrants are welcome here.” If chanting could make it so, they would be.We talked to Josh Quigley, Rep. Barbara Lee’s district director attending on the congresswoman’s behalf. He said she’d have been there herself if she was in town. He said there wasn’t much hope left that this family could remain whole. The parents will be exiled for at least 10 years unless Congressional leadership finds the humanity to pass Senator Feinstein’s private bill on the matter, or the Democrats take back Congress and pass real immigration reform.
Of everything this administration stands for, the attack on immigrants who are the foundation, the future, the very identity of this country, is the hardest to take. What kind of person sees an oncology and cardiology nurse as a threat? Thinks it makes our country greater to tear a 16-year-old away from her loving parents, a 12-year-old from his home? They hide behind the argument that if you make an exception for one, you have to make an exception for all. All nurses? All teenagers? Maria Mendoza-Sanchez broke the rules, it’s true—the system is broken too, but that’s beside the point. She broke the rules, but she broke them in order to help people, to save lives.
There’s nothing left to try. Eusebio, Maria, and Jesus leave today; Vianney, Melin, and Elizabeth will stay. There is no good reason why these people should be forced to make these heartbreaking decisions about what’s best for their family. Eusebio and Maria are leaving behind their three older daughters so they can pursue their educations. A fund has been set up, all money raised will go directly to support the children’s educational expenses.
In a statement, Senator Feinstein said: “My heart is broken for Maria and Eusebio, their family and our community. … This is a senseless, callous policy, and it’s heartbreaking to see in action. … I’ll continue to do everything I can to fight for the Sanchez family and all families across the country who have been so callously targeted. This is a disgraceful day for America.”
In the end all we got the Mendoza-Sanchez family was one more day together while Senator Feinstein tried one last time to get ICE to stay their deportation. The co-workers and fellow union members and community supporters who rallied outside the mother’s workplace, the family’s tireless lawyers, the members of Congress who tried everything, the family members themselves who fought to stay together for as long as they could. Our failure to do more is incredibly discouraging. It all seems like a whole lot of trouble for just one day. But think of your own loved ones. Wouldn’t you give all that and more for one more day with them?