WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new mural by immigrant advocacy group United We Dream was unveiled last Thursday on the brick wall of a local corner store in the city’s northwest side.
The mural, painted by Sherien Damra, depicts two undocumented immigrants —Joella Roberts, 23, and Edder, 25— along with 77-year-old psychotherapist Satuski Ina, who was born in a Japanese internment camp where she spent her first four years in captivity. Under a painted title that says “Immigrant Day of Resilience,” Roberts, Edder, and Ina are each shown with a fist raised in defiance against the abuse of immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The unveiling of the mural was accompanied by an official resolution by DC Councilmember Janeese Lewis George to officially recognize April 15 as Immigrant Day of Resilience. The declaration is meant to “reclaim the month Jeff Sessions announced the Trump-era family separation ‘zero-tolerance” policy in 2018,” according to Anabel Mendoza, a spokesperson for United We Dream.
After a brief ceremony in which a seashell from Maryland was passed around with burning incense to cleanse attendees, speeches were given by Edder’s relatives, including his sister Stephanie Rizzo Ramírez, 25, and cousin Alejandra González, also 25.
“We are blooming into the best individuals we possibly can,” Rizzo Ramírez said to the crowd of roughly 30 people who had gathered under the baby blue spring sky for the unveiling.
Edder, once a recipient of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) suffered a deportation fate that was not unique during the Trump presidency. After being detained by the local police in Charlotte, North Carolina for falling asleep in his car after a party, Edder was turned over to ICE. He was then transferred to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a for-profit private prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America under contract with ICE. Eventually, Edder was deported to Mexico. González told the crowd at the mural unveiling that on the day she got engaged, Edder was deported.
“Immediately during his booking, he became an immigration case,” González said, “and so his deportation process started out expedited by Trump’s ‘no tolerance’ policy.”
In theory, Edder was protected by DACA at the time of his detention. In practice, Trump’s “no tolerance” policies allowed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to cancel Edder’s DACA, resulting in his deportation to Mexico—a process González said is “unlawful and not according to due process.” Gónález then said that USCIS added “salt on the wound” of Edder’s grieving family by reinstating his DACA status on the same day his deportation flight touched down in Mexico.
Both González and Rizzo Ramírez said that the Biden White House has not been contacted them about Edder’s case.
“The Biden administration has done nothing to help immigrants or stop deportations,” Gonzalez told Latino Rebels.
Edder did not reply to Latino Rebels’ request for comment regarding his case.
Besides speeches by Edder’s family members, Joella Roberts, a DACA recipient from Trinidad and Tobago brought to the United States at 4 years old, also addressed the crowd. A community activist living both the struggle for Black lives and the fight for undocumented youth, Roberts gave an emotional speech.
“I got no nothing, no protections,” said Roberts, fighting back tears. “I’ve been down with United We Dream from the beginning.”
“We had already sold our home so I could afford $10,000 out-of-pocket,” Roberts added. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I’m not eligible for a FAFSA. I’m not eligible for any scholarships even though I’m bomb and I’m smart and I’m all these things… it’s so exclusionary.”
Roberts concluded her speech by demanding justice and equality for all Americans, “no matter where your mother birthed you.”
Pablo Manríquez is a freelance political journalist based in Washington, D.C. He is an immigrant from Santiago de Chile with a political science degree from the University of Notre Dame. The Washington Post calls him “an Internet folk hero.” Twitter: @pmnrqz.