Immigration activists and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients met during a SXSW panel in an effort to share their immigration stories and push for reform.
The panel, Defending Dreamers: Resisting with Art & Activism, was moderated March 14 by Jessica Reeves, chief operating officer at Voto Latino, a media organization dedicated to activism and promoting civic duties such as voting. The panel lasted from 5-6 p.m. at the Westin Hotel in downtown Austin.
The panelists included: Jesus Contreras, a paramedic born in Mexico and raised in Houston, Juan Escalante, a digital campaigns manager at America’s Voice, a immigration advocacy group and immigrant from Venezuela who lost his immigration status due to a lawyer mishandling his family’s case in 2006 and Maria Praeli, an immigration policy associate at FWD.US and immigrant from Peru who grew up in Connecticut.
The panelists shared stories about their struggles with attaining DACA benefits which include the right to obtain a state driver’s license, a permit to work for two years at a time and the ability to go to college without fear of deportation. The panelists said they each were able to complete their educations, but fear deportation as DACA was rescinded and permanent legislation has not been implemented in its place.
“Many times, folks ask why you don’t just get legal. But there’s no doable pathway right now. Since (President Donald) Trump canceled the program, (immigrants) are no longer safe from deportation,” Praeli said.
Contreras was a first responder during Hurricane Harvey. His goal as an immigrant is to give back to his community and was inspired after Harvey to be open about his immigration status and advocate for other immigrants who can be helpful to their communities if they are able to stay.
“When DACA was rescinded, I was working during Hurricane Harvey,” Contreras said. “I was there in the frontlines and I was proud;… I came from nothing and I can help people here, in this country.”
Contreras’ family left Mexico because they lived in an area he said is dangerous due to drug-related crime and violence.
“It felt like a slap in the face to see that the White House was talking about rescinding. (My DACA) expires in October,” Contreras said.
The panelists talked about DACA renewals. They said DACA recipients can now apply for renewal, but those who do not already have DACA cannot apply to receive it. A federal judge in California is responsible for recipients’ rights to renew, according to the panelists.
After the panel concluded, the question and answer portion was filled with questions about how audience members can get involved with immigration activism in effective ways. The panelists advised audience members to register to vote, call their congressional representatives and to speak to their local representatives.