Luis Mora came to this country when he was 11 years old, in 2009. Luis went down to San Diego to visit his partner Jaleen Udarbe’s family for the holidays. After making a wrong turn, they found themselves at an immigration checkpoint, where Luis was asked if he was a citizen of the United States. After admitting to the California Border Patrol officer that he was indeed an undocumented student at UC Berkeley, Luis was detained. To this day, Luis still sits in a detention center waiting for his release.
The core members of Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education, or RISE, found out about Luis Mora’s detention on Dec. 31, 2017. Immediately, during our own holiday celebrations, we began planning how we would free Luis. A group of RISE members began the campaign that would ultimately get the attention of senators and Congress members.
Unfortunately, Luis’ case is not the only one. Right now, he is at Otay Mesa Detention Center, a place that is known for breaking human trafficking laws by forcing immigrants to work all day for $1.50. In total, California has eight other immigration detention centers similar to Otay Mesa. The immigrants in these detention centers do not get the visibility that Luis receives because they are not “DREAMers.” These immigrants are not your perfect immigrant sob story that forces even U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris to write a letter for them. These are the immigrants who are constantly thrown under the bus for the sake of the “good immigrant” rhetoric. Floricel Liborio Ramos, for example, has been detained at Mesa Verde Detention Center for almost 10 months. Floricel is an indigenous Huichol woman from Mexico with three children who desperately need their mom back. RISE, alongside different grassroots organizations, has been fighting for Floricel’s case since the very beginning. Despite all of our efforts, Floricel has not gotten enough media attention because she does not fit the mold of a “good immigrant.”
At the same time Luis’ campaign was going on, Fernando Carrillo’s family reached out to us to bring attention to their own struggle to free Fernando — a father of three, a hard-working immigrant and not a criminal. Sadly, Fernando’s campaign has not gained as much attention as Luis’ campaign. Is it too much to ask to get this community member back to his family? It seems that these three qualities are not enough to warrant his release.
The current rhetoric judges us immigrants by what we can offer to this country. The American dream is only for Americans. Undocumented youths who qualify for DACA are allowed to remain in this country because they are seen as essentially American; they have lived here since they were children and they “contribute” to our communities and economies. The rest of us are either too old or too foreign (or a combination of both) to deserve the American dream. We are too “criminal” and not white enough. We come from “shithole countries.” Undocumented peoples have to live in the shadows and constantly prove our worth to live in a country that does not want us and yet needs our labor to function.
Luis will hopefully be released Wednesday, Jan. 17 during his bond hearing, but what about the other immigrants in detention centers? Do they deserve to be released? What will happen to them? As undocumented persons in the United States, we live in a constant state of uncertainty. We do not know if we will be allowed to remain in this country or deported to places where we will face death. Temporary Protected Status holders, for example, are being asked to decide between returning to the dangerous conditions of their countries or staying as undocumented peoples. I ask you, then, are we worthy of your support? When you say you stand by immigrants, do you also stand by the criminals, by the mothers, by the construction workers, by the sex workers, by the doctors, by the students? Will you stand by the Black and brown immigrants, by the transgender immigrants, by the most oppressed peoples who seek refuge in this country? Will you allow us to live as human beings worthy of life like any other American, or will you turn us away because our lives are not worth as much as yours?
María Atanacio, Paola Correa, Michael Mitchell, Anny Patiño and Valeria Suarez are the core members of RISE.