A youth-led immigration protest in Santa Ana, California on Wednesday evening was the latest in a new wave of activism that is rippling across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court's non-decision on Obama's immigration executive orders last week.
Chanting ¡sin papeles, sin miedo! or "no papers, no fear,” an estimated 70 people—including some undocumented activists as young as 16— marched through the streets of town Wednesday evening demanding the president halt deportations.
Obama is urging voters to support candidates who champion immigration reform, but undocumented immigrants rallying around the country say they want to make their voices heard in the streets, because they aren't given a voice in the voting booth.
“Undocumented folks can’t just leave [Deferred Action] to the election, because we can’t vote— that’s not our civil engagement," said Hairo Cortes, a coordinator with Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU,) the group that organized Wednesday's protest.
“What’s worked for us and what’s given us results has been organizing," said Cortes, 23, who moved to the U.S from Mexico at the age of seven. He says what has worked for the undocumented immigrant population is taking "actions and being visible in public and making sure people are listening and that more people are standing up.”
The activists in Santa Ana marched past a federal immigration office and several city blocks lined with businesses frequented by Latinos. The protest organizers said they want the historically Mexican community to know that President Obama can still take actions to help assuage the fear that many immigrants live in.
“When President Obama spoke about the Supreme Court decision [on DAPA], it was very defeatist speech, sort of giving you the sense of ‘Well, that’s it for me. Nothing else I can do',” said Cortes, referring to Obama’s sullen speech following last Thursday’s court ruling. "But the fact is, there is plenty more he can do."
That's why immigration activists across the country are organizing rallies to call on the president to—at the very least— halt deportations.
The protests are acts of civil disobedience. Four activists were arrested in Phoenix the day of the high court's ruling, and nine more were arrested at a similar protest in Hartford. At least five other activists were detained in Philadelphia for blocking an interstate off-ramp, while four more were arrested in Atlanta for blocking traffic at a busy intersection by sitting atop ladders in the middle of the street. Other immigration protests have been organized in San Antonio and Nashville.
Many of the protests have been organized by #Not1More, a group that fosters collaboration between immigrant rights organizations across the country.
Cortes said his group chose to protest in Santa Ana because the city hosts multiple law enforcement agencies, and also because the city has an unpopular contract with immigration officials to detain immigrants while they await to see immigration judges.
Santa Ana is located 40 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and 78% of its 334,000 residents are Latinos. The city has an all-Latino and all-Democratic local government, yet undocumented immigrants here still live in fear of the law.
Cortes said the Supreme Court decision is giving immigration activists across the country more energy to continue the fight to stop deportations.
“With or without administrative relief, we knew that folks would still be left in danger of deportation,” said Cortes. "For us, it’s about fighting for them."