DACA recipients Jose Luis Santiago and Catalina Santiago–who also happen to be brother and sister–were both arrested Wednesday outside of the Texas Capitol in Austin.
Their arrest, and subsequent nine-hour stint in jail, were part of an action led by Movimiento Cosecha, where Jose Luis and Catalina are both volunteer organizers. The goal of the action was to demand “permanent protection, dignity, and respect” for all undocumented immigrants, not just the ones eligible for DACA, a federal program started under the Obama administration that protects some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors. Through the protest, the organizers also aimed to disrupt daily life the same way ICE has disrupted the lives of undocumented immigrants.
Before being arrested, the protesters unfurled two banners in the street in front of the Capitol—one with their organization’s name and logo, and the other reading “PERMANENT PROTECTION DIGNITY & RESPECT.” They also sat in the street, chanting.
The Texas Department of Public Safety told Splinter in an emailed statement that Jose Luis, 21, and Catalina, 20, were two of 15 protesters arrested on Wednesday.
According to the brother and sister, the four DACA recipients were in jail for about nine hours, risking retaliation from ICE that could have resulted in further detention, or worse. (The Trump administration has deported DACA recipients before.)
For Catalina Santiago, that was the point. “The only way we will win is taking risks and being brave,” she told me over the phone not long after her release. “Having that courage, because we just can no longer wait.”
I talked to Catalina and Jose Luis about the action, the arrest, and what they think needs to happen next in order to protect undocumented immigrants in Trump’s America.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Why did you take this action to Texas, and why is it so important to you?
Catalina Santiago: We wanted to take it there to Texas because it’s at the center of the anti-immigrant sentiment. As you know, we have SB 4 here in Texas. It’s already basically a law, going into effect on September 1, and the attorney general from Texas is also leading the 10 state coalition attack against DACA.
Can you talk a bit more about your arrest?
Jose Luis Santiago: For our part, we were nonviolent. But then, there [were] two cops on horses that were trying to push us around, and there was an incident where one of the horses stepped on one of our leaders’ toe and basically kind of crushed it. She had to get it treated immediately. There was another instance where one of the marshals was kicked by the horse.
There was no resisting from us. I think we accomplished what we came for, which was basically to send a message to the American public [through] civil disobedience, and getting them to recognize that immigrants–not only their labor, but their consumption–contribute to this country.
[Note: When asked for comment on this account of the arrests, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent Splinter the following statement: “Our Mounted Horse Units were primarily used in the protection of our officers and safety of the protesters who intentionally and illegally blocked a busy city roadway intersection. The protesters were arrested only after they were repeatedly asked by DPS officials to leave the roadway, and warned they would be arrested if they did not comply.”]
What happened after you were arrested?
Catalina Santiago: First, they took us under the shade by some trees, and then they took us in their booking center. At first, we had metal handcuffs and then they changed them to the zip ties. From there, they got our basic information and transported us into a vehicle to the Travis County booking center.
Jose Luis Santiago: We spent around nine hours there. The four DACA recipients–which include my sister and I–were released first, and that was what we intended. The allies–the other 11 people that got arrested–practiced jail solidarity, which basically means they would not be taken out of jail until all the DACA recipients were out.
Were you worried while you were detained?
Catalina Santiago: I feel that through the coordination we also had preparation. We spoke to lawyers [about] worst case scenarios, what could happen. [I] was just thinking there isn’t much to lose since my parents are farmworkers in Florida. I was thinking about them, right? About how they worked arduously under the hot sun back at home and just have a mediocre wage. So, it was just keeping them in mind, keeping all the 11 million undocumented workers that sustain this country in mind as well.
I knew what I signed up for, and I was ready for it because I felt determined to fight for my community and not just the so-called “deserving youth,” but every undocumented immigrant in this country.
Why is this is so important to you?
Jose Luis Santiago: We’re not going to accept something [like DACA] that only a small portion of the 11 million [undocumented immigrants in America] would benefit from. That’s what we’re fighting for, and we won’t stop until we get that permanent protection, respect, and dignity.
Catalina Santiago: Basically, for us it’s about including other undocumented people, right? It’s not just about youth. There has been more criminalization of our community, more law enforcement, more border patrols, more raids, more deportations, ultimately more separation of families, and we just don’t want to fall into that.
What are you up to next?
Catalina Santiago: We are continuing with the guidance of our vision: permanent protection, dignity, and respect. And through that we use our huge tactic, which is non-cooperation—just showing what the absence of immigrants [looks like] in different sectors. We are a team of 30 volunteer organizers. We don’t have a salary. [But] it’s not about making money. It’s about how much we care for our people.
It’s just basically bringing more disruption. We’re saying if ICE wants to come and disrupt our community, we will bring disruption as well to the general public because the entire country has to know what’s happening. DACA wasn’t just given to us. It wasn’t just granted to us. Obama didn’t just wake up and say “Oh, poor kids. Poor DREAMers. Let me give them this.” It was fought for, so we’re just still taking action.
Jose Luis Santiago: The struggle or the movement has always been more than DACA. What we wanted was for the 11 million people to have recognition in this country. We want the 11 million to be included.
Catalina Santiago: We can’t divide ourselves from who’s deserving or not, who’s a criminal or not, just throwing our parents under the bus. We need something that’s permanent. We can’t wait and be complacent because things won’t be just handed to us.