Michael Slate Interview with Basilisa Alonso of Our Dream Coalition

The Brave DACA Fighters—Taking Action in the Face of a Dangerous Situation

December 21, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following is excerpted from an interview with Basilisa Alonso Friday, December 18, 2017 for The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica radio.

Revolution/revcom.us features interviews from The Michael Slate show to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theatre, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those interviewed are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere by Revolution/revcom.us.

This interview, which discusses the December 15 civil disobedience action by seven DACA youth (known as the Dream 7) and another activist and their arrest, was done before they were released from jail on Wednesday, December 20.


Michael Slate: In September, Trump announced his decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era program that kept undocumented immigrants who'd been brought to the United States as children from being deported. Now, seven DACA recipients have been arrested in the offices of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, demanding that they, along with other members of Congress who previously expressed support for the Dreamers, live up to their word. The DACA recipients are demanding that members of Congress block any spending bill that does not include a Clean Dream Act [giving legal status to DACA recipients].

Here to speak with us is Basilisa Alonso, who is a volunteer with the Our Dream Coalition. I wanted to start by saying that someone called me and said, “Have you seen this? This is so important.” There's so much on the line here, and there's so much bravery, and it's something that people everywhere have to pay attention to, respect, and actually think of what it means for them in the conditions we're living in today. So why don't you tell us about the recent action that was taken by these seven Dreamers?

Basilisa Alonso: Sure. On Friday, seven undocumented youth and one ally went to Sen. Schumer's office and Rep. Curbelo's office. The reason why they went there was because these are two people, especially Sen. Schumer, who has positioned himself to be a leader, and who has multiple times said he stands with Dreamers, but just last week he was already backtracking on that and saying that the Dream Act could be brought up for a vote later on. That's something that is totally different than what he has been saying up until a few days ago.

These really brave people took action, because we're asking that this issue no longer get kicked along down the road. We've been waiting for over 10 years. This has been a long time in the making. People are losing their status—every single day about 120 people. We just can't wait right now. If they say that they stand with Dreamers, then they need to prove it.

Michael Slate: You said it was a very dangerous situation for people. Why?

Basilisa Alonso: Because people are already losing their status. There are about 120 DACA recipients every day that lose status. As we are seeing with our brave comrades who are in jail right now, DACA is no longer a guaranteed protection. ICE has been alerted about one of our colleagues in jail, and that puts the entire group at risk. So ICE could potentially detain them. Every day that they spend in jail heightens the risk of ICE intervening and perhaps detaining them.

This is something that can be fixed. All we're asking is that Sen. Schumer and Rep. Curbelo come out and publicly pledge that they have the votes necessary to stop any spending bill that doesn't include the Dream Act.

Michael Slate: When you talk about what the congressional people are saying, what the system is saying to people, it's very different than what the youth and other people, the Dreamers, are actually demanding. There's a certain amount of righteousness that's really important that's on the side of the people.  And there's a certain amount of dishonesty and just flimflamming on the side of the system.

Basilisa Alonso: You're absolutely right. This is something that we are told some things privately. We are told some things publicly. But essentially what we want is for something to happen already. It's never been “our time.” It's never been the right time for any type of immigration bill to come up. The last time we had any sort of immigration relief was in 1986. We really just can't wait. We need the Dream Act now to protect everyone who is losing status.

We always knew that DACA was only a temporary fix, because that was something that we have to renew every couple of years, and we knew that there was always the possibility that if a president was in office who didn't have the same views as President Obama, they could revoke that at any time, like it has happened.

Politicians have told us, especially Democrats, that they are on our side. This is something we're constantly told, that we have been told for many, many years, that we should focus on Republicans. But let's not forget that in 2010, the Dream Act failed because five Democrats didn't vote with their party. We just want to make sure that everyone remembers that, and that no one forgets that, and that Sen. Schumer actually whips his party to not vote for a spending bill that does not include the Dream Act. And we also need his guarantee that he has the votes necessary to make this happen, to make the Dream Act happen this week.

Michael Slate: This is a very serious matter for many. How many hundreds of thousands of people . . .

Basilisa Alonso: 800,000.

Michael Slate: This is a massive crime against humanity, when they're talking about just rolling down the tracks and deporting people. People don't think about this. It really can go from what it is today—where you're having deportations that are sort of behind the screen—to when you're actually having railroad cars filled with people, deporting them.

Basilisa Alonso: And that's something they can't turn away from. What happened on Friday [with the arrests], we're showing that this is what's going to happen. This is going to be our reality if nothing is fixed. We're also asking that we get the Dream Act, but with no negative attachments. We don't want any money for the Border Patrol. We don't want any money for the wall. We don't want our communities to be criminalized. My parents are not criminals. My parents are the original Dreamers.

We want the Dream Act, but not at the cost of our families. And that's something that they can't turn away from. Sen. Schumer, Rep. Curbelo and the rest of Congress will go home and spend a very lovely time with their family for Christmas. But for our families that's not going to be the case. A lot of us go home every single night and don't know if we're going to see our families the next day. And that's the reality that we live in. I know it's hard for someone who doesn't understand the reality that we live in to wrap their heads around, but that's what's happening.

The fact that seven people are sitting in DC jail right now, and have been exposed to ICE, that's just a reality that Congress can't push aside. They have to face that. They were arrested and they're in DC Jail for simply asking that Sen. Schumer really prove that he is the leader that he says he is and that he really stands with Dreamers. And the same thing with Rep. Curbelo, who says that he stands with Dreamers.

Michael Slate: Just so people know, 11,000 people have lost their status so far, and every day, 122 more people lose their DACA status. So every day without DACA threatens deportations for hundreds of people, right?

Basilisa Alonso: Absolutely. As soon as we lose our status, we are exposed to deportation. That is especially dangerous for people at border towns because of the interaction with the Border Patrol. One thing that Sen. Schumer seems to forget is that New York is a border state. We border Canada. So there's plenty of people, plenty of farm workers, who get deported all the time from interaction with Border Patrol.

So losing our protection is horrible, but the other thing is that we won't be able to work any more. This is going to be one of the most massive layoffs if you think about it like that. We have 800,000 people who are no longer going to be able to work – to contribute to society and provide for their families.

Michael Slate: What if some students are picked up by ICE or whatever, and they're run out like this, what is the impact on the families left behind? Do they then become susceptible to ICE and deportation?

Basilisa Alonso: We simply don't know. The government said, come out, come forward, come out of the shadows. We're going to grant you this protection. Don't be afraid. We won't use your personal information against you. But we don't know if that's going to be true or not with this administration. This administration could potentially utilize the information that we used when we applied for DACA to go after us and our families.

Michael Slate: Tell me something about the people who got arrested. They made a decision that morally and politically, they were not going to bend to the rules. They've undertaken a lot of actions in the jail, I understand.

Basilisa Alonso: They were arrested on Friday [December 15]. Today is the fourth day that they have spent in jail. They have also been engaging in a hunger strike. So their bellies are empty, but we know that they said that their hearts are full with the strength of the community. We are showing up to show them that we are there, that we stand with them. But again, they can come out tomorrow. All we need is for Sen. Schumer and Rep. Curbelo to do their job.

Michael Slate: I'd like you to talk for a minute about the hypocrisy of the Democrats. You have Schumer and all these people, and there's a stench of hypocrisy surrounding everything they're doing in relation to this.

Basilisa Alonso: Absolutely. I come from New York, and when people think of New York, they think of New York City and its welcoming policies toward immigrants. But I grew up right outside of New York in Westchester County, which is a little more conservative. I think that people don't really see New York as a place that's hostile to immigrants, but any place outside of New York City can be a hostile place.

We've been told throughout this very long journey that now is not our time. It's never been our time. It's never been the right time to do something about immigration. When it's midterm year, they say we can't do that because it's going to harm Democrats who are running for reelection. For example, when President Obama came in, he said that immigration was going to be his priority. Latinos came out in support because in addition to education and health care, he said he was going to do something for us, and he didn't. We were put on the back burner. They said wait, now is not your time.

In 2010, when we lost the Dream Act because of five Democrats, they said it was because of reelection. They were facing tough reelection. “But we're with you and we'll do something.” When DACA happened, that was some pressure from our community. We had people sitting in at President Obama's reelection offices to bring attention to the fact that he hadn't kept his promises. So he gave us DACA, but because of the work the community put in.

But then we wanted something more permanent, because we knew that in a sense, that was just breadcrumbs. But again they told us, now is not your time. Now here we are in 2017, and we have an administration that is revving up their deportation machine. They're deporting people indiscriminately. And they're telling us again, this is not the time.

So then when is the time? If we couldn't do it under a Democratic president when we had a majority in both houses, and now we can't do it now with a president who is coming after me and my family, then when is the time? We can't wait any more.

Michael Slate: Absolutely. What kind of response have you been getting from people who hear about this?

Basilisa Alonso: Yes. We have been receiving an outpouring of support from the community. There's been more DACA recipients who have been just inspired by the big sacrifice that these seven people and one ally are taking. They're literally putting their livelihood on the line. That's just something really inspiring. And it's a shame, frankly, that seven people have to risk deportation in order to move leaders in Congress. I really wish that Congress could have a quarter of the strength that these people are showing right now.

Michael Slate: When I heard about this, I was very moved. I thought, here are people whose freedom, whose safety, whose very lives are at risk here if they dare to stand up and do this. I want to talk about that, because there's an overall importance to this action, saying this at this time, under this regime – and we have a fascist regime in power. To stand up against them like this is not only brave, but extremely important in terms of the example it sets for people everywhere else.

Basilisa Alonso: I think that one thing that these folks are giving us is hope. That we can stand up and we can fight back, even under this administration. We may not be able to vote. We may not be able to pay high-powered lobbyists, but we have the power of our stories. That's what they're using. They're using their stories and hopes to motivate the American public to stand with us. Because we can't do this alone. We need those affected, community members and our allies to stand with us. We need congressional representatives to realize that my friends right now have been in jail for four days now. ICE knows about them. And this is something that they can end. We're just asking that they finally do their job after two decades.

Michael Slate: Now, you talk about stories, and that's important as well. Let's talk about that. Give people a sense of what those stories are.

Basilisa Alonso: We have one person who is very young. Her parents are undocumented. They're both farm workers. They work from sunup to sundown. They get treated unfairly; their job is backbreaking. But here she is, speaking up for herself and speaking up for her family, and just taking that risk, because she knows that even if something happens to her, even if she has to suffer for a week to get Congress to act, what we're going to get is hopefully protection for her, but not at the expense of her migrant, farm working parents.

Michael Slate: I think it's so important for people to understand what people are facing and the fact that in the face of all that, that they have the heart and the soul and the thinking—the broadness of mind and the dedication to stand up against this regime and the horror it's bringing down.

Basilisa Alonso: There's a saying, “When they take everything away from you, they even take your fear.” That's a saying very popular in Latin America. We've been pushed to the brink where our backs are against the wall. We are at this point laying all our cards on the table. We are laying our hearts bare. We're saying, we need your help. We need the American public to make those calls, to hold their members of Congress accountable, and we need our undocumented community to stand up. We're not going to let them drive us back into the shadows. That's what they're going to do.

We've been able to come out of the shadows. DACA was a win from the community. We won DACA because we had people, like the people sitting in jail right now, who risked a lot, even with no protection against deportation. They participated in civil disobedience, and they were arrested and they could have been deported. But they put everything on the line to fight for all of us. For all the 800,000 people who have DACA, and for all their families.



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