We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 80th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Ricardo Aca, a last-year student at Baruch College and a member of Make the Road's Youth Power Project. Aca is also a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and discusses what losing DACA will mean for his future and others like him.
Sarah Jaffe: Today, we are talking on the deadline for DACA renewal, and Make the Road and other folks are calling for a clean DREAM Act. Can you tell me a little bit about the work that has been going on leading up to today and the ongoing demand for a passing of the DREAM Act?
Ricardo Aca: Yes, a number of us at Make the Road New York have had our offices open as soon as we found out that President Trump was rescinding DACA. We provided a lot of information services for family members of DACA recipients -- legal services. We were able to also create scholarships so that we can make the fee for the application accessible to as many DACA beneficiaries who are eligible to renew before today, to actually do this and make it as easy as possible.
But not everyone was able to do it on time. We see that today, the time is up, which went by really, really fast. I know that a lot of people -- not only in New York, but in other states -- they probably don't have access to all the same resources that we have or they don't have access to the news to be able to stay up to date, or [may not be] able to get the $500, which is a lot of money for someone to pay for a fee for a DACA renewal.
I think we were able to get a lot of people to come to our offices and then be able to receive all the help that they could get. But I think not everyone was able to do it. Right now, our job is to make sure that not only are we going to take it to the street, but also we are going to act more on the local and national level. We are going to take our actions to Congress and we are going to push Congress members like Peter King of Long Island and Don Donovan of Staten Island -- both are Republicans -- who are going to be key votes on a clean DREAM Act being passed.
What we are asking, in saying we want a clean DREAM Act, is that we don't want any add-ons to it. We don't want to compromise the future of our families. It goes against American values. It doesn't seem fair that you want us to stay, if you were to pass the DREAM Act, but then the other thing is that you want to separate us from our families. It doesn't seem reasonable and it is also very inhumane, if you want to profit from our contributions, which Donald Trump doesn't really want to acknowledge. But also, you want to separate us from our parents and send them back to our countries.
In addition to that, the kind of add-ons and things that would heighten funding for deportations, there is also talk about a trade-off for the border wall. I wonder if you could talk about that and the connection of that, or lack thereof, to the DREAM Act.
Donald Trump said to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that he will support a DREAM Act if Congress is able to come up with a decision. But also, he wants massive border security, and … he still plans on building the wall. That was part of his message throughout his entire campaign. Basically, he wants to add on those things in exchange for supporting a DREAM Act or a path to citizenship for Dreamers like ourselves.
This is very scary, because … for someone like myself who lives in New York, I am sure I will be fine, but basically everyone who lives along those states on the border, they will be in constant fear of being stopped by ICE agents, of being separated from their families. That is why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act -- because we don't want to compromise the future of families in the South, near the border, and for them to be scared of driving their kids to school or being able to go shopping and go about their daily life, just because there will be an increased amount of border security.
Then, a massive border wall, which it is very unreasonable. It is going to be billions of dollars which we probably could put into different things, like helping those that have gone through hurricanes and earthquakes that we have seen recently all over the world.
Tell us a little bit about your story. Tell us about your experiences with DACA.
I am 26 years old. I was eligible for DACA four years ago. I am on my third renewal. With DACA, I was able to get a New York State ID for the first time, which besides being proud of being Mexican, I am able to show that I am a proud New Yorker whenever I was going to a different state. It also meant being able to travel to different states within the US without having to live in that fear that at some point someone might call ICE agents on me while I was at the airport. That relieved all that fear that I kind of grew up having … that really didn't allow me to move around and be able to discover other spaces in the United States.
It also means being able to finally be able to get a job legally with better working conditions. Before that, I was working off the books for a diner, and then I got a job at a Japanese food restaurant and it was my second job with DACA. I worked there for five years. I know from personal experience that a lot of restaurants and hotels in New York City rely on the work of undocumented immigrants like myself, some who have DACA.
I think for Trump to not acknowledge our contributions to this country is not only upsetting, but it is also very dishonest, because we are the backbone of this country, even though we are always at the back of the house and we are doing the jobs that not [many] native-born Americans want to do. That is why we are very important, because we complete a big part of the puzzle in this country. If you were to take us away, you will definitely see negative impacts on our economy and on our diversity that we have as a country.
What can people do to support DACA recipients and immigrants who are not DACA recipients, or people like you who were eligible, but can't renew it again?
Get involved more with local organizations like Make the Road. We are always looking for people who want to help, who want to take to the street. We have rallies almost every month since Trump was elected president. It is important for people to show their support so that we can feel accepted, because I think Trump right now is sending all these negative messages that he doesn't want us. Someone like myself, I am 26, I can take a lot. But at the same time, I know that for a younger generation or younger undocumented immigrants, this creates a sense of "You don't belong here." This is where you have family, this is where you guys have jobs, this is where you go to college, where at the end of the day, you contribute. This is where you want to be, where you have proven with all of your hard work that this is where you want to call your home. Trump has been sending all these messages and a lot of them will need emotional support.
Even though right now we were able to get a lot of people to sign up for the DACA renewals, there were so many others who will -- probably after the six-month period -- they will probably end up losing their jobs, they will probably have to go back into living in fear. They will need support in case something worse were to happen to them. I would say get involved with a local organization like Make the Road. We provide a lot of resources. We have a texting number where if you just text Road to 52886, you will get updates on our rallies and on when we are doing actions like the one today in Staten Island. We will definitely be taking to the streets, but we will also be more on pushing Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act that does not compromise the futures of our immigrant community, as well.
Tell us a little bit about the actions that are happening today as we are talking at the office of Pete King and Dan Donovan.
In New York, we are considering today a day of action where people have to choose what side they are on [for] this issue. We are your co-workers, we are your friends, we are your family members. A lot of us are living in this fear that we have this ticking bomb, this expiration date on our DACA. We want people to show their support for the undocumented immigrant community in their neighborhoods because they need to feel included, and they also need to support the DREAM Act.
After September 5, when DACA was rescinded, not a lot of people were talking about DACA. No one really knew what DACA meant, except for those who benefited from it. Right now, we need to keep on talking about it. We need to keep pushing our Congress members to pass a clean DREAM Act, to support the DREAM Act, to help the undocumented in our communities feel included in the United States.
Today, we are asking people to call their Congress members, to attend many of the events that are happening throughout New York City, for example, the one in Staten Island. I know, also, the CUNY Dreamers are doing something at [the Borough of Manhattan Community College] where people will get to share their stories, people can hear the stories of undocumented youth. That will also be very important, because you will not know what it is like to be us until you put yourselves in our shoes. We struggled a lot to get to where we are today.
Even this label "Dreamers" … we kind of no longer want to be associated with, because at the end of the day, we are the representations of our parents who are the original Dreamers and people need to know that. That is also part of the reason why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act, where we deserve to be here, but also, our parents deserve to be here. We don't want to compromise our future because we don't want to be separated from them, who are just as important as we are. We are the representation of them because they wanted us to get a better education, they wanted us to have better jobs, which we do have. We wouldn't have been able to do that without the work of our parents.
That is something that people don't really know in this narrative. People think our parents should be considered "criminals" because they broke the law, but they don't know what it is like to come from somewhere like Mexico or Venezuela or Colombia where there is a lot of political struggle. They don't know what it is like to be living in this country where you don't have access to resources, you don't have access to education, [where] you don't feel safe, [where] there are drug cartels. People need to know that there is a reason why we came here and now that we are here, this is where we consider our home and this is where we want to be.
We want people to be supportive and show up for the events. It shouldn't only be undocumented immigrants attending these events; it should be everyone who knows an undocumented immigrant.
How can people keep up with you and with Make the Road?
For Make the Road: text ROAD to 52886. We have locations here in New York City: one in Queens, in Jackson Heights, we have one in Bushwick and we also have one in Staten Island. Go to them, text the number, stay up to date on all of these issues.
I am Ricardo Aca. You can find me on social media. I have been doing this for a little over two years. I am always here to help anyone that needs help getting started or knowing what to do. I try to attend as many rallies as I possibly can. I am always willing to help allies get more involved or take other steps to becoming an activist or becoming an ally to the undocumented immigrant community.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.