In the name of “Black and brown solidarity,” children of color with different relationships to the U.S. immigration system gathered Wednesday in front of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to ask President Donald Trump and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to stop separating their families and communities.
Part of We Belong Together’s Kids Caravan, a four-city tour from April 10 to April 13, the action highlighted experiences of youth of color who have had parents detained, deported, or targeted by the immigration system. The tour ends today in Washington, D.C., leading to a week of action in which advocates will ask elected leaders to speak out against policies that threaten immigrant communities.
Many of the children who spoke at an event in Raleigh Wednesday discussed the Trump administration. Eleven-year-old Uriel Pedro Rodriguez, a son of undocumented immigrants who translates for two students at his elementary school, addressed Trump and North Carolina’s governor directly.
“Donald Trump, we can’t be living like this,” Rodriguez said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We can’t keep living with fear that at any moment our parents can be arrested leading to a deportation. It’s in your hands to keep our families united.”
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The 11-year-old said this is a moment for Gov. Cooper to “get out and do something for the community,” because the community needs him.
“I heard the story of your mom who was a teacher and [because] of that you said you were going to make education better, but you can’t do that when everything is going bad. We live with days of racism, discrimination, and laws that are unconstitutional,” Rodriguez said.
A native of North Carolina, Rodriguez told Rewire that he doesn’t think many U.S. citizens understand the worries of kids like him.
North Carolina’s undocumented student population was hit particularly hard by January 2016 raids under the Obama administration that resulted in the detainment of 336 people. Known as Operation Border Guardian, the immigration enforcement action targeted Central American youth ages 18 and older who had deportation orders. Some were detained by ICE on their way to school, including Durham, North Carolina’s Wildin Acosta, who was eventually released from detention in large part due to public outcry.
When ICE detained Acosta, Durham educators rallied around him, including Holly Hardin, a local high school teacher who recently attempted to enter ICE’s Charlotte field office to meet with the assistant field officer and demand that ICE stay out of North Carolina schools. Hardin was the only educator to speak at Wednesday’s event. In an interview with Rewire, she said fears surrounding detainment and deportation are routinely expressed in her classes.
“When kids come into a classroom, they bring their whole selves, they don’t disconnect from what they’re going through to study science. I know that for a lot of my students, if they’re not talking about their fears—and they do—they’re thinking about them,” Hardin said.
While reported checkpoints in Durham recently put the undocumented community on edge, the Durham Board of Education has been an outspoken advocate for undocumented and mixed-status families. But Hardin said policies to protect undocumented students are still needed and funds need to be directed toward support services.
“I teach at a school with 1,500 students and there are four counselors, and in our district, there is one bilingual counselor … [more] money needs to be funneled into these types of things. Our kids could really use people to talk to about their fears right now,” Hardin said.
We Belong Together’s Kids Caravan forces the public to bear witness to youth of colors’ fears. We Belong Together is a campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, comprised of immigrant women and children across the country, as well as women’s organizations and immigrant rights groups.
Participants in the four-city tour include Leah, an 11-year-old girl with an undocumented mother, and her close friend Jasmine, a 10-year-old from Florida whose mother had Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era immigration policy that provides a work permit and protection from deportation renewable every two years for those who meet specific requirements. (Rewire is not using the last names of some of the children in this story for security reasons.)
The differences between them were stark because of their families’ different experiences within the immigration system. Jasmine was there with her mother; Leah’s mother couldn’t join the tour because of concerns for her safety. Jasmine explained that school was a place where she could learn, have fun, and turn off her worries—“it’s like a refuge,” she said. Leah said that concentrating at school was difficult because she constantly worried about her family being taken from her both while she was at school and at night before bed.
“If my parents get deported, there’s no one to take care of me. I don’t have any money to eat food,” Leah said. “I want to do good in school, but I think of my mom a lot.”
Hardin said the fears her students are currently expressing sound very similar to those expressed last year.
“Everyone is scared because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hardin said. “Based on what my students are discussing in class, this climate feels very familiar to them.”
Charlene, a 16-year-old from Miami, also spoke at Wednesday’s event. Her experiences as an Afro-Latina in a Cuban, mixed-status family informed her decision to join Power U at her Miami high school. The program is part of a larger organization that seeks to organize and develop the leadership of Black and brown youth. In her speech, she highlighted just how closely Black and brown young people are affected by the same oppressive systems, including the immigration system.
Charlene told Rewire that as more Latino students entered her school, she noticed they were encountering institutional roadblocks related to language barriers and because of their lack of citizenship status. That was hard enough, Charlene said, and then Trump’s anti-immigrant, racially charged rhetoric came along.
“I have family members who don’t have papers, but it’s important to just say that this is wrong. What’s happening is wrong,” Charlene said. “People like my family come here for a better life, they come here to give their kids better than what they had. They don’t deserve any of this.”