The immigration conversations that have been at the forefront of national conversation struck home in Travis County last February. During a two day sweep, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials arrested 51 undocumented immigrants in Austin, and 681 nationally as part of raids in Los Angeles. Chicago, Atlanta and New York. In a city that considers itself a Sanctuary, the effects of national immigration policy were suddenly all too real.
This is the atmosphere in which February’s Front Porch gathering on the localized effects of immigration policy occurred. Community members, activists, students and thought leaders gathered at David Chapel Missionary Church on October 17, just a few miles from where the majority of raids occurred. The evening’s conversation focused on making the story of immigration local, personal and urgent.
The evening of community began with two personal testimonies. First, Dreamer and DACA recipient, Samuel Cervantes shared his story of finding out that he was undocumented when it came time to apply for his Driver’s License. Coming from Mexico when he was just a child, he thrived at school in the United States. As his friends began to drive and look into colleges, his parents had to explain that he would not be able to do any of those things because of his immigration status. The Dreamers legislation reignited his hopes for a future in the country that he called home, and when it failed, he was devastated. DACA gave him a chance to go to college. Now, Samuel interns as an advocate for other undocumented people at FWD.US.
The second testimony of the evening was from Edilsa Argentine. Unstable economic and social conditions caused her mother to flee with her and her sisters to the United States. During their journey, Edilsa was kidnapped and held for ransom. Early one morning, Edilsa escaped, and found help from a local. Thanks to DACA, Edilsa was able to graduate from college and get a job as an accountant. She is the sole provider for her mother and her sisters. With the cancellation of DACA, she will lose her right to work, and her family will lose their primary source of income.
These stories helped set the tone of the evening, recalibrating folk’s connection to the conversation. Attendees were thus encouraged to approach the evening’s discussion less from the prism of a political agenda and more from the understanding of the human effects of immigration policy.
In the breakout sessions, community members expressed a range of reasons for attending. Some were there to gather information, some were informed and wanted to take action, and others were there to share their stories. Newcomers to the immigration issue were surprised by the urgency of the issue. They did not know that immigration raids had occurred in their neighborhoods.
The groups discussed what it meant to be an ally to undocumented immigrants and what role they could play in outreach, the creation of safe spaces, and how to share information. Ideas included showing an understanding and compassion for the emotions that undocumented immigrants are currently going through, helping to spread information on immigrant rights, stopping the spread of disinformation and panic, and creating and maintaining places of refuge and resources in homes, churches and schools.
Community leaders discussed the need to not only help immigrants know their rights, but to fight misinformation about immigrants. They advocated speaking to neighbors and their fellow community members about the history of immigration law, DACA, and what policies Austin had in place to protect the undocumented. They wanted members of the community to know about the real danger that migrants experience as they fight to maintain some normalcy in their lives by running errands, taking their children to school, and trying to remain a member of the community that they call home, despite the threat of deportation. They also discussed what it means to be a sanctuary city, and what the City of Austin has done, and hasn’t done, to earn that label.
The evening ended with a call to action, specifically around what allies can do to support migrants as members of their community, even as national and state legislation leaves some feeling powerless. A thread that emerged was the importance of getting involved in policy making at a local level. People shared that even if national politics are disheartening, there are still actions that community members can take locally to affect immigration issues. Community members emphasized that no meeting was too small, and suggested using networks to reach out to local legislators, including school boards.
Some suggested resources for immigrants were:
- Deportation Crisis Hotline – (512) 270-1515 https://www.indivisibleaustin.com/2017/02/02/ice-operation-in-austin/
- U. Leadership Initiative – An advocacy group led by undocumented students http://universityleadershipinitiative.org/
- FWD.US – An organization committed to documenting and sharing important stories to improve immigration policy https://www.fwd.us/
- Grassroots Leadership – Localized efforts to combat mass jailing and detention of undocumented community members. https://grassrootsleadership.org/immigration
- City of Austin Commission on Immigration Affairs – An opportunity for community members to provide feedback to City Council on issues facing Austin’s immigration population http://www.austintexas.gov/coia
The Community Engagement Center’s Front Porch Gatherings are a space for Austin’s community to connect, discuss, and take action on issues that affect us all.
Please join us for our next Front Porch Gathering on affordable housing accessibility on Tuesday, November 14th at 6:30PM. We will be meeting at Austin Community College, Eastview Campus (3401 Webberville Road) in the All Purpose Room.
We hope to see you there!