Beyond DACA: The Youth Fighting for the Rights of All Immigrants

Movimiento Cosecha is taking direct action to defend DACA—and all undocumented people living in the United States.

Kate Aronoff

Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration law demonstrate against President Trump's decision to cancel the program on September 5, 2017 in Foley Square in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Jeff Ses­sions announced on Tues­day morn­ing that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is mak­ing good on a long­time promise: to end Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA), a pro­gram that allows undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants who came to the coun­try as chil­dren to work and live in the Unit­ed States with­out fear of deportation.

At the same time, hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered just blocks from Trump Tow­er in Mid­town Man­hat­tan for a ral­ly called by Movimien­to Cosecha, a group com­prised large­ly of young, undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants who stand to be among those worst impact­ed by this week’s deci­sion. Over the next sev­er­al hours, 34 DACA­ment­ed” young peo­ple and their allies would be arrested.

There were a lot of peo­ple cry­ing,” Thais Mar­ques, a DACA recip­i­ent and orga­niz­er with Cosecha, told In These Times. We had to acknowl­edge that pain.”

Once the action got going, the tone shift­ed. When we start­ed march­ing to Trump Tow­er, and the DACA folks shut down Fifth Avenue, the mood com­plete­ly changed,” Mar­ques said. It was real­ly beau­ti­ful to see the strength that they have, and the courage, to do this lit­er­al­ly moments after it was announced that DACA was repealed.”

Nine DACA­ment­ed demon­stra­tors and three allies — one of whom was for­mer­ly undoc­u­ment­ed — sat down on Fifth Avenue, block­ing traf­fic briefly before being arrest­ed. Orga­niz­ers than led a march around the block, as anoth­er set of more than 20 pro­test­ers blocked the same street once again. Unex­pect­ed­ly, sev­er­al march mar­shals, charged with direct­ing pro­test­ers, were arrest­ed by the New York Police Depart­ment as well.

Well in advance of the action, orga­niz­ers had agreed to use a tac­tic called jail sol­i­dar­i­ty, where peo­ple who are arrest­ed refuse to be released until every­one from their group is free. Espe­cial­ly in protests involv­ing undoc­u­ment­ed activists, it’s a way to ensure those in more pre­car­i­ous legal stand­ing aren’t sin­gled out for spe­cial treat­ment — or entered into depor­ta­tion proceedings.

Oth­er Defend DACA actions were held in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Den­ver Colo., where hun­dreds of stu­dents staged a mas­sive walk­out. Sev­er­al oth­er protests were held in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. As of Fri­day morn­ing, youth with the Fair Immi­grant Reform Move­ment and oth­er groups entered the third day of a hunger strike in Wash­ing­ton D.C.

Accord­ing to Mar­ques, on Wednes­day, we saw a rebirth of the DREAM movement.”

Many Cosecha orga­niz­ers were deeply involved in the ulti­mate­ly unsuc­cess­ful fight to pass the DREAM Act at the nation­al lev­el, a push that formed a major part of what lead Oba­ma to announce DACA via Exec­u­tive Order in 2012. Mar­ques is one of many in the immi­grant rights move­ment, though, who are weary of per­pet­u­at­ing the idea that only DREAM­ers — and young, high-achiev­ing stu­dents, in par­tic­u­lar — deserve protection.

We [at Cosecha] see our­selves as hold­ing the line for con­stant­ly being dis­sat­is­fied with the nar­ra­tive that we have to pro­tect DREAM­ers and not the larg­er immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty,” Mar­ques empha­sized. There’s no dif­fer­ence between DREAM­ers and work­ers. Our shared iden­ti­ty is that of work­ers. We all have a dor­mant eco­nom­ic pow­er that the coun­try depends on.”

As of 2016, there were an esti­mat­ed 8 mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple in the country’s work­force, and — in gen­er­al — immi­grants have a high­er labor force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate than Amer­i­cans born domes­ti­cal­ly. In cer­tain indus­tries, undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers are rep­re­sent­ed in dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers, com­pris­ing 17 per­cent of the agri­cul­tur­al work­force and 13 per­cent in con­struc­tion. In Cal­i­for­nia, peo­ple with­out papers account for 9 per­cent of all work­ers in the state.

Like many oth­er pro­gres­sive out­fits, Cosecha expe­ri­enced a huge spike in mem­ber­ship fol­low­ing Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion. The organization’s growth was spurred in part by its ear­ly adop­tion of the Sanc­tu­ary Cities frame, encour­ag­ing towns, col­lege cam­pus­es and oth­er insti­tu­tions to refuse to coop­er­ate with fed­er­al immi­gra­tion authorities.

Ulti­mate­ly, Cosecha hopes to build toward a gen­er­al strike, though that could still be sev­er­al years off. Accord­ing to Cosecha’s strat­e­gy, pub­licly avail­able on their web­site, a gen­er­al strike is Phase 4”. The sec­ond phase — the one they are in now — is polit­i­cal non-cooperation.

In the short-term, the group will look to be a dis­rup­tive voice and use more civ­il dis­obe­di­ence as the DACA con­ver­sa­tion moves into Con­gress, which is now offi­cial­ly tasked with decid­ing the fate of the pro­gram. The prob­lem is that we are in a moment where we don’t real­ly have nego­ti­at­ing pow­er inside Con­gress or with Don­ald Trump,” Mar­ques contended.

Giv­en over­whelm­ing GOP con­trol, Cosecha is skep­ti­cal that any clean” DREAM Act — one with­out an enforce­ment com­po­nent — will make its way through Con­gress, when its ear­li­er iter­a­tion failed dur­ing Obama’s tenure. Any bill that is passed would prob­a­bly include defund­ing sanc­tu­ary cities, build­ing a wall and all sorts of oth­er things that will be bad for our com­mu­ni­ties,” Mar­ques explained, adding that Cosecha hope to refo­cus its efforts away from leg­isla­tive back-and-forth.

The only way Con­gress will pass some­thing decent is if there are mas­sive num­bers of peo­ple in the streets,” she said. We want to push peo­ple to not put their faith politi­cians. What has worked over the last 20 years in the immi­grant rights move­ment is when undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple are demon­strat­ing what risk and sac­ri­fice look like.”

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue