- Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez
Ph.D. student at the CUNY Graduate Center and former youth organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. In June 2010, she was invited by President Obama to the White House to discuss immigration policy and prospects for immigration reform and refused to shake the president’s hand.
The Obama administration has begun conducting raids and detaining families as part of an effort to deport Central Americans who have fled violence in their home countries. At least 121 people have been detained so far. At one home in Georgia, Ana Lizet Mejia, a Honduran woman who fled the country after her brother was murdered by gangs, was taken into custody along with her 9-year-old son after an early-morning raid. “In the same way that we fled a country where people were disappearing in the middle of the night and being taken by members of the government, by armed individuals, the same things are happening today in this country, and it is terrifying,” said Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, a Ph.D. student at the CUNY Graduate Center and former youth organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “And it is the reason why we stand up and fight, because we refuse to be dehumanized any longer.” We speak with Sousa-Rodriguez, who, in June 2010, was invited by President Obama to the White House to discuss immigration policy and prospects for immigration reform and refused to shake the president’s hand.
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has begun conducting raids and detaining families across the United States as part of an effort to deport hundreds of Central Americans who have fled violence in their home countries. At least 11 families have reportedly been detained so far.
At one home in Georgia, a Honduran woman and her 9-year-old son were taken into custody after an early-morning raid. The woman, Ana Lizet Mejia, reportedly fled Honduras after her brother was murdered by gangs. Her aunt, Joanna Gutierrez, told the Los Angeles Times Mejia was already under surveillance by the court, wore an ankle monitor and attended all of her court dates. Gutierrez said her children were shaking with fear after agents woke them and searched the house at 5:00 in the morning.
Meanwhile in Chicago, a prosecutor has asked the FBI to investigate the fatal shooting of an African-American college student and a grandmother last weekend. The student, Quintonio LeGrier, was fatally shot after his father called 911 to report his son was acting strangely and carrying a metal bat. Police acknowledged they shot 55-year-old Bettie Jones by mistake.
Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has released thousands of pages of emails revealing its year-long effort to contain the fallout from the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last October. McDonald was shot 16 times by police. Police dash cam video, released only last month after court order, contradicts police accounts of the killing.
What do the immigration raids and police brutality have in common? Well, they’ve both sparked growing social movements demanding justice. It’s those linkages that are examined in a remarkable new book, When We Fight, We Win!: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World. The book looks at movements ranging from immigration to Black Lives Matter, to the Fight for 15, to LGBTQ rights.
We’re joined by the author, education activist Greg Jobin-Leeds, and two of the people featured in the book—Jitu Brown and Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez. We’re also joined by the book’s art director, Dey Hernández. One of the things that makes this book so unusual is the stunning artwork throughout.
But I want to start on those immigration raids. Isabel, if you can talk about the significance of this new year? 2016 dawns, and what do we learn? That well over a hundred people are being swept up in these immigration raids under the Obama administration. What do you know about them?
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking that we have been betrayed so severely by the Obama administration. It was part of the inspiration of the Trail of Dreams. There were record numbers of deportations that were entirely unprecedented. You know, minority groups across this country were given this illusion of hope and change that was coming. And really, I felt at the time, and I feel again now, that many of our families—I came to this country from Colombia with my family, fleeing the violence that was taking place there. And in the same way that we fled a country where people were disappearing in the middle of the night and being taken by members of the government, by armed individuals, and put into unmarked vans, the same things are happening today in this country, and it’s terrifying. And it’s the reason why we stand up and fight, because we refuse to be dehumanized any longer. We want our families to be treated with dignity and respect.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your family’s own immigration story and how you took activism into your own hands, not alone, but the march you went on, from Florida.
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: So it all came about after I graduated from high school. I was dealing not just with the—my shattered dreams of being an undocumented student and realizing that the American dream was not accessible to me and individuals like me who are not recognized because they don’t have legal status, but also because my family was experiencing deportation, was being forced out of the country because their political asylum cases had been denied. And I was seeing how enforcement kept increasing, detention centers were expanding their capacity, profit was being made off of our lives. And so, the Trail of Dreams was really a desperate effort to try to inspire hope amongst young people, amongst families, from Miami all the way to D.C. I reached out to my best friends from our youth group in the Florida Immigrant Coalition in Miami. And together, we just believed that people out there wanted to join in the cause and wanted to stand up and say, “No more.” And, you know, our journey to D.C. got over 60,000 people around the country involved, engaged through social media.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about some of the places you went to and what you confronted in the South.
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we walked all through Florida, Georgia. In Georgia, the Ku Klux Klan had a demonstration where they wanted prayer in schools and an end to the Latino invasion. And they compared all immigrants to prostitutes and criminals. And we joined the NAACP in efforts to show that black and brown communities are standing together against the racism in this country, against the ways that we are under attack and are being dehumanized. And so, yeah, we went through South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, until we made it to D.C., with 8,000 people walking across the bridge to the Capitol.
AMY GOODMAN: You met President Obama?
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: I was invited. And it was interesting, because in the period of the Trail, I was sponsored by my U.S. citizen stepmother, and so I was the only one in the group that was given an opportunity to legalize their status. And so, I received the invitation after multiple times that we had requested meetings with the White House, and with the president, specifically, and had been rejected. We were told, “Oh, the president can’t meet an undocumented person. You wouldn’t be able to get through White House clearance.” And so, when they found out that I was only one in the group that had an ID, I was invited.
And so, I knew, going into that meeting, that I wasn’t there—I wasn’t going there as myself; I needed to be there representing everyone that gets left out of these meetings, yeah, left out of being able to have a say in the policies that are affecting our lives. So, when I arrived, I decided not to shake the president’s hand, as a way of expressing my disappointment and the sense of betrayal that the community has experienced under his administration, and our commitment to keep fighting and to hold the government accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was President Obama’s response?
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: It was interesting, because they never expected that coming, I think. I was told by Valerie Jarrett that he was very excited to meet us. You know, they figured this is a meeting with a group of advocates, it’s going to be nice, friendly. And the moment that I did that, it completely changed the tone of the meeting, and it made it a serious meeting about accountability, about the need for administrative relief, a need to end deportations. And it got a lot of conversation started that led to the passage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel the DREAMers did it?
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: I do believe that the DREAMers put everything on the line for their families, for their futures. We continue to fight all over this country, continue organizing, continue building meaningful relationships with other communities that are struggling in the same way, because we need equality and justice in this country, not just for immigrants, but for all of us who are being cast into the shadows.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez is one of our guests. She marched, walked on a long Trail of Tears [sic], as you—
ISABEL SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ: Trail of Dreams.
AMY GOODMAN: Trail of Dreams, as you put it, from Florida to Washington, D.C., then ultimately refused to shake President Obama’s hand, though clearly the DREAMers changed Obama administration policy. When we come back, we’ll be joined by others who are part of a fascinating project, a new book that’s out. It’s called When We Fight, We Win! Stay with us.