Stop Calling Me an Activist
Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals began as I stood outside the massive stone blocks that sustain one of the most powerful judicial bodies in the world. My emotions ran the gamut; this hearing would be a bookmark for what is yet to come: more anxiety, fear, and frustration surrounding my status as a DACA recipient.
I had traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I volunteer as a legal assistant, providing legal aid to immigrants both detained and non-detained, to become a witness to this newest chapter in a mighty social movement that had begun long before Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano signed the DACA memorandum seven years ago.
I looked up at the white marble façade of the Supreme Court building that read, “equal justice under law” and wondered how much justice we would be receiving under American jurisprudence, not just for the 700,000 of us DACA recipients, but for all undocumented immigrants living in this country. The court’s conservative majority appears inclined to allow the Trump administration to dismantle a program that has protected us from deportation and allowed us to work and in some cases obtain financial help to go to school.
I had come to Washington to prove that my advocacy will go far beyond the “good-immigrant” narrative—one that often blames parents like mine for their acts of seeking a better life for their children in this country.
Through the years, I had been praised and glorified for speaking out and fighting for basic human rights. I had come to the U.S. when I was 3, so this place is all I’ve ever known. At Seattle University, where I earned a college degree in 2017, I had stepped out of the shadows and stepped down as student body president to focus on a journey towards liberation and justice for marginalized voices.
I was struck with emotion as I arrived outside the columned facade of the high court and both saw and felt the crowds. Hoping that the justices inside could hear our chants for freedom, I joined in the rhythm of bailes, ordances, and songs that made me feel more alive, more energized, knowing there was a community who knew what I was feeling.
What did I feel? I was conflicted. I felt sadness, anger, and was irritated that justice in this country means having to wait a lifetime for results. At the same time, I felt uplifted and heard in the company of people advocating for a common good. I felt the presence of mi gente, my people, coming from all over the world to join our cultures and communities to prove that we are worthy of dignity.
I had come not only to support DACA, but to accompany friends and families who had gathered for this significant moment in history. I stood outside the court holding a banner that honored the victims of U.S. Border Patrol agents. Inside, oral arguments for Hernandez v. Mesa, a case stemming from the fatal shooting of an unarmed 15-year-old Mexican boy named Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca by a Border Patrol agent, were taking place — an equally important case heard that day.
What does it mean when you spend your whole life seeking something so arbitrary as “citizenship”? What does it mean when you have a piece of your culture and history replaced, washed out, and in many ways shamed? In my young life, I found that nothing is more limiting to the human person than this.
I want to be able to travel the world or even just have the choice to do so. I want to discover, explore, live, and be free from all the constraints I grew up with as a queer, undocumented person in this country. Keeping DACA does not equal liberation, and becoming U.S. citizens will not liberate us either. And when we talk about DACA, we need to talk about that. We need to talk about border militarization and about indigenous liberation and about police brutality — all issues that relate to the moral crisis we face in regard to immigration today.
We need to address the carceral, police state that we live in and challenge systems meant to deter or prevent marginalized people from obtaining safety and liberty in another country. We need to accept how issues such as climate change directly affect migration patterns around the world and we need to work to actively stop the ongoing cycle that feeds the systems of oppression we live under today.
Stop calling me an activist. I am only fighting for my right to live in a world free of constraints, liminality, and frustration. So much more is outside our borders, and I hope that one day I get to experience that without the limitations the United States government imposes on me.
I left Washington with a heavy heart, but a hopeful one—that the time I spent here in comradeship with those who believe as I do will continue to inspire all of us in our fight against injustices around the country, whether along the southwest borderlands or in this nation’s capital.
Carlos Rodriguez is an immigrant advocate working along the southwest borderlands who uses his position to talk about issues related to immigration, affordable housing, and homelessness.