LOS ANGELES, CA—With the Supreme Court on the cusp of a decision that will impact the lives of millions of undocumented people living in the U.S., hundreds of immigrants and their allies gathered here on Saturday to celebrate America’s immigrant heritage and share stories of courage, resilience and hope.
Held at the historic Holman United Methodist Church, I Am An Immigrant: A Celebration of Our Stories, featured a diverse array of musical and dance performances, live renditions of immigrant-themed speeches from throughout American history, and stirring personal narratives delivered by immigrants and their families.
The event, sponsored by The California Endowment and Welcome.us, was live-streamed by Fusion and can be watched in its entirety here.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule within two weeks on United States vs. Texas, a case that will determine the legality of two executive actions made by the Obama administration to temporarily shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The executive actions, known as DAPA and expanded DACA, would allow eligible individuals to also apply for temporary work permits.
It was appropriate that the event, also timed to coincide with Immigrant Heritage Month, took place in Los Angeles. The city is home to over 500,000 undocumented immigrants who stand to be directly impacted by the court decision.
As critical as the ruling is, one thing is for sure: DAPA and DACA—temporary orders that could be rescinded by a newly elected president—do not represent the end game for immigrant rights activists. With that in mind, Fusion asked a diverse cross section of attendees at the L.A. gathering to look beyond the upcoming court decision and reflect on what comes next in the fight for immigrant rights.
Tanzila Ahmed, 30, writer and artist, Campaign Strategist at 18 Million Rising
“A lot of what comes next hinges on who will be in office in the next election cycle. We really have to see who is in office next to see where we have to angle our strategies. I think DACA/DAPA were placeholders. There is so much overhaul that needs to be done. These programs are piece meals that were given to us temporarily in the moment. There will always be continued organizing that needs to be done. The end goal was not to get DACA and DAPA, the end goal is to have complete immigration reform.”
Polo Morales, 39, Political Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A.
“There are two key critical moments this year for immigrants — the Supreme Court case and the elections. Regardless of the decision of the Supreme Court, the election is still just as important because you have two trains of thought: mass deportation and walls, or expansion of programs and comprehensive immigration reform.
We haven’t had any movement in Congress for immigration. There is no recourse for folks who aspire to become American citizens so the President had to act. If the Supreme Court decision does not land on the side of immigrants, then they go back to the shadows. Then deportations continue. Then there’s no way for them to become American citizens. The only practical solution we have right now is expanded DACA and DAPA. Until Congress acts, the issue of immigration needs to be resolved and cannot be delayed further.”
Reverend Kelvin Sauls, Pastor at Holman United Methodist Church
“The future is just and humane immigration reform. I always describe the journey towards just and fair immigration as one that must result in a just and fair United States. DAPA/DACA is an exit off the [highway] that just deals with the now. The key piece is to find the on-ramp back on the highway that leads us towards a more just and fair United States.”
Jordan Howard, 24, Social Good Strategist
“We need to move forward and become what America has always been—[a country with] open doors for immigration. We need to make sure we give that to communities of color who have been denied that for so long. It’s not like we’re anti-immigrant in America, we are very pro-immigrant—but only if you come from Europe or a nice place in Asia. We need to be pro-immigrant where it matters for our people of color.”
Joshua Rodriguez, 24, Southern Calif. Chapter Manager, fwd.us
“If there is a Supreme Court victory, this would be a huge step in the right direction, hopefully towards a legislative solution. If there’s an unfavorable decision, I [still] see a strong coalition and despite the rhetoric out there, there will be a legislative solution. And it’s not a matter of if, but when.”
“A positive decision would let us live our lives better and let us breathe more calmly. I have DACA myself and I think the ability to not have to live in fear on a daily basis… it lets immigrants integrate more in their home state, communities, and in our country.
If it’s an unfavorable decision, we need to continue the work that we’re already doing. We need to figure out how we can provide immigrant integration policies, not just at the federal level, but the local and state levels. California is such a great example, where we welcome immigrants of all walks of life with open arms. We have a program for (driver’s) licenses for undocumented folks. We just passed health care for (undocumented) kids last year. These kinds of programs have a meaningful impact in the day-to-day lives of immigrants, both undocumented and documented.”
Gabriela Cid, 24, Southern Calif. Chapter Associate, fwd.us
“My parents are undocumented so I’ve been involved in the immigrant rights movement for almost 10 years. This is a fight that has been long and coming. It’s not only about my parents but the millions of parents like mine that are also undocumented. In the end, the push is for comprehensive immigration reform because DAPA/DACA provide a temporary thing that only so many people qualify for, so we need to push for more. When we’re talking about DAPA/DACA, we’re talking about a pathway for legalization and the importance of family unity.”
Danielle Vega, actress on original Hulu series East Los High
“If DAPA progresses, it would [create] more pressure for undocumented people to make next steps to becoming citizens—not only doing it for themselves, but for their families and their kids. In the long run, it will be better for America… We all come from different places and we all have different histories, cultures, and heritages, but that is the beauty of living in America. We are all immigrants and we all wanted the same thing, which is a better life for ourselves and our families. The call to action is to definitely accept one another and live together in harmony.”
Kristian Castro is a San Diego native who grew up in a predominantly working class neighborhood. His family of immigrants uprooted themselves from the Philippines and planted the seeds of a new life here in the states hoping for better opportunities. One of the first in his family to graduate from college, Kristian’s experiences in student leadership at UC San Diego cultivated his passions for social justice and community development. After college he served in AmeriCorps, where he developed a volunteer program for a media nonprofit and supported workforce efforts in southeast San Diego. He currently works with the San Diego Urban League on housing and financial literacy projects and is taking urban planning classes through San Jose State University’s Open University program. As a fellow, he is eager to spotlight narratives that convey how city infrastructure, transportation access and urban design play a major role in impacting community health. Kristian is privileged to be part of the fellowship where he can help amplify the stories of the communities he grew up in.