“It is our duty to fight for freedom
It is our duty to win
We must love each other
Support each other
We have nothing to lose but our chains”
Those are the words that Deyanira Aldana made her lecture attendees shout after her talk in Bemis Hall on Feb. 1. Aldana is a national organizer with United We Dream, an organization with over 400,000 members and an online following of 4 million people across the United States. The organization empowers immigrant youth by developing their leadership and organizational skills, as well as creating their own campaigns to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants and all people.
Aldana, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, was born in Mexico and grew up in New Jersey. DACA is an Obama-administration initiative that has recently been revoked by the Trump administration. DACA allowed individuals who entered or remained in the country as minors without documentation to resolve a renewable deferred action for deportation and allowed eligibility for a work permit.
Aldana migrated to the U.S. when she was four to reunite with her family. She did not know her father until she came to the U.S. and met him here. Once out of high school, Aldana realized that access to higher education was going to be a challenge. For instance, one time at a college fair, representatives of a particular college told her that they could not do anything for her because she was not supposed to be in the United States in the first place.
Aldana inspired Colorado College students and members from the Colorado Springs community in her lecture about the work that she and her team does in Washington,D.C., to get the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act passed. The DREAM Act provides a direct road to U.S. citizenship for about 800,000 immigrant youth who are either undocumented, have DACA or temporary protected status, and who graduated from U.S. high schools and attend college, entered the workforce, or enlisted in the military. The lecture was a safe space for many individuals to be present as unafraid undocumented immigrants.
In June 2012, former President Barack Obama announced the DACA initiative. Aldana expressed how DACA changed her life and the lives of people around her. It allowed her to be unafraid and true to who she is. DACA allowed her to leave a job that paid her $5 per hour and didn’t pay her for her last 50 hours. Aldana’s sister also managed to leave a job that was mistreating her to open her own business and employ three to four people. DACA allowed other immigrants to buy homes, cars, and receive a higher education. DACA gave many people the chance to “emerge from the shadows.”
Her activism started when President Donald Trump got elected, and the deportation machine began with the Muslim Ban and the Travel Ban. They were “a wake-up call” for Aldana. She realized that all communities of color were and are under attack. On Sept. 5, the day DACA was rescinded, Aldana was proved right. She was in Lafayette Park in front of the White House listening to the announcement. “I knew that was going to happen, but at that moment, I felt that my world had crumbled,” Aldana cried. All that she could think of were her siblings, who are also recipients of DACA. Most recently, her brother was not able to renew his DACA. Aldana chose to stand up and take action for the people in her life.
Aldana recognizes that Obama deported the most significant number of immigrants so far. She believes that he came to announce DACA because the organization of immigrant youth’s demanded their rights. Aldana is loud in criticizing both Republicans and Democrats for not standing up for undocumented immigrants. For example, Aldana called out Sen. Michael Bennet for “not doing the right thing.” However, Sen. Bennet voted “No” on the spending bill because there is no DREAM Act on it after an action Aldana led to take over his office, among other offices in Congress. She considers that to be one of the most substantial achievements of the United We Dream organization; however, Congress later disappointed her by passing the spending bill without The DREAM Act.
Aldana did not stop; she continued to fight. “We have all the power in the world to fight that,” Aldana said. It is the fight, the risk, the sacrifice that keeps the struggle and the activism going. Aldana is proud that United We Dream brought 2,000 people to Washington D.C. to rally for undocumented youth. They also directly trained 200 immigrant youth and indirectly taught over 2,000. The training is a one-week intensive course that consists of organizing workshops and on-ground actions that the participants engage in. Aldana considers this to be the real daily success that she makes.
One of her other successes is the Colorado Springs Dream Team, which is an emerging team in Colorado Springs that continues to fight for the DREAM Act and ensure that there is the right representation for this community. Aldana encouraged the audience to get involved by joining the Colorado Springs Dream Team every Sunday at 5 p.m. to discuss organizing actions. She also urged them to get involved by donating to organizations that advocate for various causes or calling their senators and representatives to advocate for the DREAM Act.
Aldana also led an organizing workshop the day before, in which she discussed the necessary steps for initiating a campaign. She held a discussion with the Colorado Springs Dream Team about the next steps within the area. They decided they want Congressman Doug Lamborn to leave office because of his inability to support immigrants and various communities of color in District 5. They discussed strategies for taking action toward that goal.
Aldana referred to a more prominent fight and larger systems of oppression that need our attention; the fight is a fight for African Americans, LGBTQIA+ peoples, youth in detention centers, and more; the fight continues for all.