PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
Demonstrators in New Orleans marched against Trump's decision to end the DACA program.
Karla Rosas didn't grow up thinking of herself as "undocumented."
She came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, grew up in Louisiana, did well in school and served on her homecoming court. "It wasn't until I turned 16 that things were a a little different for me," she told a crowd outside City Hall Sept. 6. "I couldn't get a driver's license, my mom got nervous around cops, words people called me started to sting more."
Rosas is among more than 2,000 young people in Louisiana whose futures are uncertain following President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals program, which has granted U.S. entry to more than 800,000 "dreamers" who came to the country as minors.
"DACA, for me, when that decision came out, the clouds lifted over my head," Rosas said. "It wasn't surprising — I don't think anyone with DACA didn't know this was coming — but it still hurts, it's still sad. I felt like everything was pulled out from under me."
Advocates for immigrants rights and their families rallied outside City Hall in New Orleans and down the street from the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Sept. 5, demanding elected officials uphold DACA protections and ensure the safety of immigrant communities in the U.S.
But demonstrators also turned their attention to crucial local races in citywide elections, demanding candidates incorporate immigrants' rights in their platforms and calling on city leaders to protect immigrant families and children in schools from law enforcement harassment.
"We need to show local politicians there is no neutrality," said Chloe Sigal, an organizer with New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice. "You have to pick a side. ... It doesn't mean anything to be here right now if three months from now the mayor says, 'Yes, ICE can run through our communities.'"
The rally also called on the community to embrace its immigrant neighbors and show solidarity with them to reinforce the collective power in resisting anti-immigrant sentiment and policy.
Across from City Hall, a late afternoon crowd filled Duncan Plaza to hear Mary Moran with Latino parent advocacy group Nuestra Voz NOLA, which organized the rally with the Congress of Day Laborers with the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice.
"Immigrant issues are American issues," Moran said. "Some said there couldn't be a DACA rally in the south because there's not enough support. Well, look around."
One parent of two "dreamers" asked, through Sigal who translated from Spanish, how he should feel with both of his children studying at the University of New Orleans receiving notice "they're not going to be able to continue down that path."
"As an immigrant father I feel I've been scammed by this country," he said. "Their lives are being used in a political ping pong. Who has the ball? It's the Republicans. And we know we can all expect the worse from them. But we're not seeing much better from our allies, are we. What we need to remember is it's not going to be the politicians who have the power. It's the community — the pueblo
— and we need to show them. ... We need to stand up and say you're not playing with out dignity anymore."
Advocates asserted that "es ahora o nunca
" ("It's now or never"), with accelerated actions against immigrants following a series of executive orders in January, violent rhetoric from the right, the presidential pardon of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and increased ICE enforcement across the U.S.
"It does not stop at DACA," Rosas said. "Our cousins, our uncles, our aunts, our grandparents — they also deserve to be here. It's not just a Latino thing. It's a Black thing, it's an Asian thing. It's a Pacific Islander thing. It's all kinds of things. It's against people."
The crowd marched from Duncan Plaza toward ICE offices on Loyola Avenue while chanting "old Jim Crow, new Jim Crow, the whole damn system has got to go" and "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here." Demonstrators carried large colorful signs — "Poder a la gente
," "Keep dreamers, deport Trump," a large banner leading the march declaring "Stop the Raids and Deportations"
Jose Torres said he's scheduled to check in with ICE agents this week. "I don't know what's going to happen," he said. His brother in law was arrested while standing on a corner looking for work as a day laborer. "The victories we've fought for are all under attack," he said.
"What happened yesterday was barbaric," said Insis Bernardez, who participated in a hunger strike while in immigration detention for 14 months. "It affects not only our community and children but the community as a whole."
"We've seen how hate has reared its ugly head," said Mario Mendoza, an organizer with Nuestra Voz. His two teenaged children qualified for DACA a year ago. "We've seen how our children are being mistreated in their schools. We see how our people are being arrested in the streets. All this is being unshackled by a racist federal government. If we believe in justice, we are standing up for our dignity by standing up for the dignity of another person."
Back at Duncan Plaza, Honduran native Leficia Casildo told the crowd she's moved by the outpouring of support. "What inspires me most is we're not alone," she said. "We'll continue to win."