In 2010, weeks after SB1070 (Arizona's racist immigration bill) had passed, five young undocumented immigrants occupied Senator John McCain's office to demand his support for the DREAM Act. It felt like the craziest thing we could do, and we did it because we were tired of being in the center of a movement, and not having our own agency to move forward our demands. Also, we felt it was time to make an invitation to the migrant rights movement to escalate. This very action was the catalyst for last 3 years of bold (or as I like to say, gangstah), organizing in the Migrant rights movement.
We started by abandoning the limits of organizations and funding. We were inspired because one of our folks got detained in Minnesota and we were able to make a difference. He was going to be deported in a matter of hours; it was amazing the way everyone in the DREAM movement sprung into action and pressured ICE to release him after a few hours and delay the deportation process. Suddenly, we were able to think differently about what was needed in our movement. We needed to create the same type of urgency at a higher capacity, and we needed to spring into action. Around that time, the idea to get detained intentionally came about, as a way to push the DREAM Act, and to push the movement towards escalation.
The Craziest Thing We Could Have Done
By Cristobal Lagunas-Alvarez, CSS Associate
We retreated to Boston to plan, but many details still needed to be figured out about where our efforts could have the greatest impact. Planning for our direct action started at my apartment in Boston when ten of us had a strategy session for a whole week. The most memorable moment of that week for me was picking the place to do the action. We were all sitting in my living room throwing around ideas, until some asked, “What is the worst place for immigrants in the U.S.?” At which point, the recent passage of SB1070 made us all say “Arizona!”. We all had mixed reactions to doing it in AZ, but we decided to go ahead with it.
That week, we also came up with action ideas, messaging, started our legal preparation, and started to figure out the logistic of the action. It was clear now that we were going to Arizona, and for the first time in our movement, four undocumented people were going to engage in Civil Disobedience by taking over a Senate office in Tucson, AZ.
Our next strategy retreat followed a month later at Tania’s house in Chicago. We continued to work out details of the action, and started building relationships with groups on the ground in AZ. We did not want to parachute into a community and do an action. We needed to do it together. I was asked to go to AZ that very night, so at 4AM, I was on a plane from Chicago to Phoenix. Mind you, I only had a backpack with only a week's worth or clothes, a $10 dollar bill and about a $200 overdraft in the bank. Marisol bought me a one way ticket with sky miles for $37. Fortunately, we had contacted ADAC (AZ DREAM Act Coalition) and one of their members, Dulce, scooped me up at the airport. We rode her swagged out Mini Cooper to her house where I reported in with the rest of the team, who at that point was in Washington D.C.
(The only picture from the Chicago retreat, blurry from my phone)
ON THE GROUND
My job was to connect with undocumented students at Arizona State University. I eventually met 2 undocumented cats who were studying Math. They were super cool and involved in organizing, we talked all afternoon and late into the night as they studied in the library, I even took a nap on the floor while they prepared for their finals. Later, we went to their apartment, they let me sleep on their couch, and in the morning, back to ASU.
We always knew that it would take a big team to pull off this action. In just a couple of days I would be joined by Felipe in Arizona, as the rest of our team made arrangements to travel and get there in the following days. At that point, we had named the project “The DREAM is Coming” and created teaser videos. No one really knew what was going to happen, and a website with a live countdown was launched. The teaser videos, as well as the website and social media outreach were creating a huge buzz about the action. No one was expecting that Mohammad, Tania, Lizbeth and Yahaira were going to sit-in in John McCain's office.
We started building, finding people, meetings and organizations. Rigo came from Chicago to help out and soon after Mohammad, Tania, Yahaira, Lizbeth and Adam came too. We had the whole team on the ground. We all went to Puente, AZ, a grassroots group organizing for human rights, and told them what we wanted to do. They were awesome and we had a conversation about doing this action and incorporating their messaging around SB1070 into it. Collaboration was born and they opened up their office and community to us, which we'll always be grateful for. Thanks family!
We all got in cars, drove to the site, and at 11:45 AM, they were all sitting in McCain's office. We had cameras rolling, press there the whole time and, a crowd of supporters outside who were there for the seven hours that the cops tried to wait us out. Eventually the arrests were made, and all us, with tears in our eyes realized the movement had just changed. We had just opened a huge door for direct action and civil disobedience in the movement, our agency became our currency for change and we let everyone know we were/are Undocumented, Unafraid, Unapologetic and, Unashamed. In the coming years an unprecedented number of brave undocumented people would come forward, their stories would become known, and their courage a strong bedrock in the course of action. Civil disobedience became important because at a personal level, it empowered the undocumented youth community and at a political level, it started moving forward our demands.
There is so much more to this story, especially since that day was only the beginning of the last 3 years of escalation. That day, our story, the story of immigrant young people started changing, we suddenly had power. Since then hundreds of undocumented migrants have gotten arrested to be heard, we infiltrated a detention center and a county jail to organize, and are now we’re continuing to escalate by challenging the border wall. The possibilities are endless and the movement is beautiful. I can't wait for what's to come.
Cris Lagunas-Alvarez is an organizer with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). Over the past three years, NIYA has used civil disobedience and direct action tactics to move forward the demands of undocumented youth. Their current work is #bringthemhome, a campaign to challenge the border wall, deportations and to bring back undocumented youth who have been previously deported through community organizing. As of 2013, Cris is also a trainer and associate with CSS.
National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) organized the Dream 9 action in July, 2013 to raise the profile of immigration reform and push for family reunification. After weeks of detainment, all of the brave undocumented activists have been released from detention. They were detained after a calculated attempt to cross back into the U.S. after visiting their families in Mexico.