Challenge stereotypes…and other lessons from the immigration fight
The Trump administration’s rhetoric and policies around immigration, including the now-revoked “zero-tolerance” policy, have reawakened calls for immigration reform. In recent months, the photos and cries of children in cages have inspired Americans to flood the streets in protest – though many of us have been impacted by these policies our entire lives.
I’m a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient – but I don’t fit the image that people have come to expect. I am Black and speak perfect English. I’m half Moroccan, half Cameroonian, and fully American…just not on paper.
On June 30, I was one of the thousands of protesters who showed up at Lafayette Square, right in front of the White House. During the rally, a protester turned to my friend, whose father is a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipient, and me, a DACA recipient, and said, “You know, this is so surreal. People are actually suffering because of our immigration policies. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s real.” I held back the impulse to respond with a sarcastic line or false astonishment. I can’t fault her for just now realizing the failures of our immigration system. But now, as a Karel Fellow at Spitfire for the summer, I feel equipped to do something about it.
Here are five takeaways that you can apply to the immigration fight – or any cause worth fighting for:
1. Challenge stereotypes.
The protester didn’t think that immigration policies could possibly affect me because I don’t look or sound like an immigrant. Although there was a strong African American presence in the lineup at the protest, from the church choirs to the reverends, there weren’t any African American speakers who were undocumented. Contrarily, the Latino undocumented community was well represented. This lack of representation, whether intentional or not, is the reason why people never think to question my immigration status.
2. Find common ground.
The organizers advertised the event as an immigration protest. Yet, there was a speaker advocating for incarcerated mothers who also need to be reunited with their families. This made the protest more inclusive – it recognized not only immigrant families who are separated at the border, but also families who are separated for other reasons. This inclusivity was possible because of a recognition that family separation is a symptom of our systematically flawed process, not the main illness.
3. Have a clear call to action.
I saw a wide array of signs, from “abolish ICE” to “vote them out.” Some speakers called for lobbying Congress to pass legislation outlawing family separation. Others targeted President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security. These various calls to action energized the crowd, but they need to be packaged into a set of clear actions people can take to make a real, lasting impact.
4. Choose a relatable story and storyteller who is comfortable sharing it.
When a 12-year-old girl took the stage and barely muffled out her speech while sobbing, we all cried with her. She explained that she lives in constant fear of her mother being deported. She can’t sleep, eat or pay attention in school without that thought creeping in on her. This was the perfect story to share because everyone knows a child around her age. I could not help comparing her to my 10-year-old sister, Hannah, and imagining Hannah going through the same thing.
While the 12-year-old girl had a compelling story, she was also a relatable messenger to convey the fear and trauma that kids are experiencing under Trump’s family separation policy. As inspiring as it is to see celebrities express their outrage with the system, they often lack a real-world connection to this issue. Every parent can relate to the fundamental idea of providing comfort and security to a child – which is what made the girl’s heart-wrenching story all the more persuasive.
5. Harness the power of pop culture.
One of the speakers who received the loudest applause at the event was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. The story of an orphan and immigrant, Alexander Hamilton, who came to the United States and found success through hard work and perseverance holds profound meaning at a time when anti-immigrant fervor is on the rise. By incorporating rap – a modern-day phenomenon – Hamilton brings a historic yet modern take to the current immigration debate and the definition of America itself.