Our Long Walk to Freedom: A Step Forward (OPINION)

Jun 26, 2020
12:04 PM

Activists hold a banner in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 18, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

By Isaías Guerrero

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold DACA is a victory for nearly 800,000 young people like myself who are protected by this program and a rebuke to Trump’s viciously racist attacks on immigrant communities across this country.

When I first came to this country from Colombia I was 15 years old, arriving here with my mother and sisters to join my father in Indianapolis. Although I was still a high school student at the time, I remember the difficult conversations our family had in Bogotá before we left. My parents both struggled to find jobs in our home country. With three kids to take care of, the decision to build a life in the United States was made. It wasn’t an easy decision. To uproot our family from everything we’d known and move to a city where we didn’t have a community to support us would come with it’s own set of challenges. It was a courageous choice as my family sought a new and different life for me and my siblings. We soon had to face the reality and uncertainty of living life as undocumented immigrants in America. As I grew older, it gradually dawned on me what it meant to live as an undocumented immigrant in this country. Would I be able to go to college? How would I earn a living, or start my own family?

I got my start as a leader of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance and began to organize and give community presentations at churches and non-profits across the state. One day on my way to a church, I was pulled over by the police. I was so nervous that I was going to be arrested for driving without a license, I felt tears of rage and fear stream down my face as I talked with the officer, convinced that I was going to be arrested and deported.

Luckily, that didn’t happen, but knowing that it could happen at any moment caused paralyzing anxiety at times.

Later as I grew as a leader I made organizing for freedom the center of my life’s work. I remember the gnawing pit of hunger after completing a 21-day fast for immigrant rights in 2010. I heard the growling in my stomach, how my insides turned and twisted, and yet I was more hungry for justice than for food. I wondered if relief would ever come for our communities? Would Congress act and would freedom prevail for immigrant communities everywhere?

DACA was one step in that direction. It was our power materialized into a solution created for and by our community.

Since 2000, the movement has grown stronger but our opposition also more fierce. We have witnessed the rollercoaster of emotions, victories and losses. The fight for permanent protections for freedom and a roadmap to citizenship for all immigrants has been the centerpiece of our 20-year (and counting) fight for freedom.

Since Trump’s failed attempt to terminate DACA in 2017, I’ve joined fellow DACA holders and allies nationwide to demand permanent solutions. Last November, I joined hundreds of marchers in a 210-mile walk from New York City to the steps of the Supreme Court as part of the Home is Here Campaign. We arrived on the court steps with blisters on our toes but hope in our hearts, praying that the Supreme Court was going to uphold the program that allowed me to build a life here. We’ve marched. We’ve rallied. We’ve fasted. We’ve prayed and cried, waiting for the decision that would impact our futures.

It’s been part of my own healing and growth to be in this movement. To do the work to build power with people in the same situation as me. We can’t keep living our lives on the margins, especially when we have a “Bully in Chief” in the White House who uses our community as pawns in his racist playbook to rile up his base.

Though we are taking in this moment, this victory, we have to go out in the streets and continue to organize and demand that Congress take immediate action to pass the permanent protections we, undocumented immigrants need in order to thrive, be safe and be free.

To me, freedom was felt in front of the Supreme Court after they upheld DACA as we chanted once again, “Undocumented, Unafraid.” It was a moment where the immigrant community came together and understood the beauty of our power. To me, freedom tastes like tamales. It doesn’t matter whether they’re wrapped in corn or plantain leaves. Freedom smells like the flowers of spring whose scent reminds us of our own motherlands. Freedom sounds like the songs of joy that we sing during the holidays. In these small moments I feel free. But I know that as long as we have this second-class status as humans, this could be taken away instantly by a knock on my door from ICE and that is why it’s our responsibility as a country to decide which side are we on and say it clear in November, “Trump, you are fired.”


Isaías Guerrero is a DACA recipient who grew up in Indiana and is currently an immigration organizer at Community Change Action.