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Meet Cesar Espinosa: After Surviving Harvey, He’s Fighting for His Future as Trump Rescinds DACA

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In a major attack on immigrant communities across the United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced the Trump administration is rescinding the DACA program, which gives nearly 800,000 young immigrants permission to live and work in the United States. President Obama implemented DACA in 2012, after nearly a decade of massive grassroots organizing and direct action protests by undocumented youth across the country. Obama called Tuesday’s announcement “wrong,” “self-defeating” and “cruel.” Sessions’s announcement Tuesday morning sparked immediate protests across the country, with crowds taking to the streets in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Houston. In New York City, 34 people were arrested during a sit-in at Trump Tower, led by undocumented activists. For more, we go to Houston, Texas, where we’re joined by DREAMer Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based nonprofit that helps young undocumented members of the Latino community.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a major attack on immigrant communities across the United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced the Trump administration is rescinding DACA—that’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—which gives nearly 800,000 young immigrants permission to live and work in the United States.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: The Department of Justice has advised the president and the Department of Homeland Security that the Department of Homeland Security should begin an orderly, lawful wind-down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama implemented DACA in 2012, after nearly a decade of massive grassroots organizing and direct action protests by undocumented youth across the country. Obama called Tuesday’s announcement “cruel.” The Trump administration says it will begin phasing out the protections in six months, meaning some DACA recipients will be eligible for deportation as early as March 2018. Between now and then, Congress could pass legislation that could protect DACA recipients, as well as millions of other immigrants currently in the country without legal authorization.

Sessions’ announcement Tuesday morning sparked immediate protests across the country. In New York, 34 people were arrested during a sit-in at Trump Tower led by undocumented activists.

PROTESTERS: ¡Y no nos vamos! ¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!

XIMENA OSPINA VARGAS: My name is Ximena Ospina Vargas. I am here with the New York State Youth Leadership Council as well as on behalf of the Undocumented Student Initiative at Columbia University. I am a DACA recipient. My DACA expires in December. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, because I just don’t know. This shouldn’t have happened. I’m here hoping I could just start school tomorrow and just live my life comfortably and focus on school. But now, when my work permit expires, what’s going to happen? Am I going to have to take refuge? Am I going to like have to never leave campus, because there, like, that’s the only way I’ll be protected from deportation? ICE has shown to be—use very predatory tactics, and they have shown no discretion. As long as you’re undocumented, they’re snatching you. And that horrifies me, because I’ve been here since 1999. I haven’t left this country since 2001. And I have nowhere else to go.

PROTESTERS: Undocumented, unafraid! Undocumented, unafraid!

TONY CHOI: Hi. My name is Tony Choi, and I’m a DACA recipient. And I am feeling terrible right now. You know, I’ve been fighting—you know, I’ve been here for 20 years this January. And this is—like, this is just nothing short of heartbreaking, of everything that I’ve fought for. In the past five years, I was able to come out of the shadows. I was able to, you know, be who I really wanted to be, who my mom wanted me to be, you know, what my mom sacrificed for. And that’s—and it really breaks my heart.

PROTESTERS: Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!

CATALINA: My name is Catalina, and we’re here because we’re fighting for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. An attack on DACA is an attack against the entire undocumented community. We’re here to say that this fight goes beyond DACA, that it’s for all the workers in this country. It’s for all the workers who work in the fields, in the restaurants, who work cleaning our homes, who have crossed borders. This is the fight for all of us, because we all deserve permanent protection, dignity and respect. This fight is beyond DACA. It’s a fight for all undocumented immigrants in this country who provide their labor. This country runs on us. Without us, this country would fall apart.

PROTESTERS: Undocumented, unafraid! Undocumented, unafraid! Undocumented, unafraid! Undocumented, unafraid!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The head of U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Javier Palomarez, resigned from Trump’s National Diversity Coalition in protest, calling the decision to revoke DACA “inhumane and economically harmful.” Both New York and California have threatened to sue the Trump administration to protect their states’ DREAMers.

In Houston, DACA recipient Diana Platas, who lost everything during Hurricane Harvey, spoke at a press conference in response to the DACA news.

DIANA PLATAS: [translated] We lost our house and everything we have to Harvey. We lost everything my parents have built over the past several years. We have lost, and now, this, too. It’s affecting me a lot. But we will fight. We will pay attention, because we are not cowards. We are going to fight for our rights.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Houston, Texas, where we’re joined by another DREAMer, Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based nonprofit that helps young undocumented members of the Latino community.

Cesar, welcome back to Democracy Now! We talked to you by Democracy Now! video stream from your home when you were flooded in last week during Hurricane Harvey. We saw you this weekend. You’ve been going house to house, particularly going to people in the Latino community afraid to leave their houses, afraid they might be arrested by ICE, even as the water rose. You, yourself, are a DACA recipient. Can you respond to President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA?

CESAR ESPINOSA: We definitely condemn the fact that he decided to take away a very important program, not only to DREAMers, but to the entire immigrant community. It’s a shame that he has chosen also this time in history to be able to do that. We just went through one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, and he decides to make this point now. Why? So, we have a lot of questions for President Trump. We have a lot of questions that need answers. And more importantly, we need to continue to fight to not only protect the DREAMer community, but the entire immigrant community, who are working every single day to provide for our society, to provide for our economy and to just live lives and free lives here in this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Cesar, in April, President Trump actually assured the DREAMers that they could, quote, “rest easy.” And in the past, he’s also made other statements that contradict what he’s done. Do you have any sense of—from what you can tell, of what has happened in terms of his own perspective on dealing with the DREAMers?

CESAR ESPINOSA: Well, we know he’s getting a lot of pressure from a lot of sides, but we know that he’s also getting pressure even from his own party to keep the program and to defend DREAMers.

One of the things that he said that really doesn’t even make sense to us is the fact that he says that he loves DREAMers. When you love somebody, you do everything you can to protect them and to defend them. And for him to rescind the program, especially during these very difficult times, just does that make sense. But it’s the double—the double narrative that we see from the Trump administration, that they say one thing and do another.

And every time that President Trump has a failure, he goes back to the immigration issue to rattle his base and to garner more support for himself. So we ask that he stops playing games, and specifically with the DREAMer community, but also with the immigrant community, because we are not a game to be played with. We are human beings that have human rights and deserve to be here and to continue to stay with our families.

AMY GOODMAN: During an exchange with reporters on Tuesday, President Trump was questioned about his decision on DACA.

REPORTER: Mr. President, how does the DACA decision treat DREAMers “with heart”?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I have a great heart for the folks we’re talking about, a great love for them. And people think in terms of children, but they’re really young adults. I have a love for these people. And hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. And I can tell you, in speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And, really, we have no choice. We have to be able to do something. And I think it’s going to work out very well. And long term, it’s going to be the right solution.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump has such a great love for you, Cesar, and we’ll make it personal. Yes, we’re talking about 800,000 young immigrants in this country, but that he has used his attorney general—he did not hold the news conference; his attorney general did. Jeff Sessions and President [Trump] have repeatedly, through the campaign trail, expressed the same sentiments on this issue, as his top adviser, Stephen Miller, has, as well, Stephen Miller who is Trump’s top adviser but formerly was a top person on Sessions’ staff as senator, that he’s decided that, by March, people will be eligible for deportation, unless Congress moves. Tell us your own story, Cesar. You are a DACA recipient. When is your permission up? When do you apply for renewal? And do you know any of these things?

CESAR ESPINOSA: Well, up until yesterday, there was a lot of questions. We didn’t know how the program was going to be terminated, if it was going to be terminated immediately. There was widespread panic among the DREAMer community in terms of when the program was going to be rescinded, if it was going to be rescinded. Many people still couldn’t believe it. They were questioning us on social media. They were just saying that we were just sounding the alarm without there being really anything to go on. But we knew what was coming from the Trump administration.

In my case, I have submitted my renewal. Fortunately, I’ll be able to continue my process of renewal and—since I submitted before yesterday and since i submitted before October 5th. And my work permit will expire within two years. But there’s many folks. Just yesterday we got a call of a young man whose work permit expires on March 8th. And for that person, unfortunately, he will not be able to renew his DACA, since he may be too close to his deadline in order for him to renew.

So these are the stories that are going to start coming out. We’re going to start seeing a lot of people start losing their work permits, start losing their benefits that they have with their employers. And it’s going to be a big mess for the community, for the entire nation. The population of undocumented people in the country is significant, and whatever affects us will affect the rest of the country. Here in Houston, it’s going to have a huge impact. In the state of Texas, there’s a $6 billion GDP loss that’s projected every year if the rescind goes forward. And over the course of the years, you’re going to start seeing impacts all over the country, when these folks start losing their job, and when they start losing jobs which we need, which are in healthcare, which are in the tech industry and which are in a lot of teaching jobs and a lot of social services jobs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Cesar, the issue that President Trump has raised, that it’s now in the court of Congress, that Congress now has to be able to step up to the plate and deal not only with DACA, but, he is suggesting, with general immigration reform, including his choice topic of building the wall with Mexico? So, does this mean that the DREAMers and the immigrant rights movement will have to accept the building of a wall in order to get some kind of a regularization of their status?

CESAR ESPINOSA: Unfortunately, once again, this is all a political game. He has taken his ability to do something, and he has thrown it now to Congress. And at the end of the day, if Congress doesn’t come to a solution, he’s going to wash his hands. He’s going to say, “Well, Congress didn’t do anything, so you can’t expect more from me.” It’s really sad that they continue to use the immigrant community, like I said, to rattle his base, to continue to fund that myth that we are criminals and that we shouldn’t be here.

Yesterday, we took a great offense to two things. Number one is that Trump himself did not make the announcement. So, he did not want to face the nation, he did not want to face the world, because he knew what he was doing was wrong. And, number two, Jeff Sessions called us the same thing, used the same narrative, saying that we were criminals, that we shouldn’t deserve to be here, and that Americans come first. We are Americans in every aspect, except for a piece of paper that legitimizes us.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the effect—

CESAR ESPINOSA: And at the same time, we want to—yes?

AMY GOODMAN: The effect this is going to have on Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey? I wanted to go to one of your colleagues, Alain Cisneros, a FIEL community organizer, describing the outreach to Houston’s undocumented community after Harvey and the news that DACA will not be continued.

ALAIN CISNEROS: We’re doing here today is visit families affected by Hurricane Harvey, because of the announcement for the President Trump to end DACA does not move out to do what we can do. Like all the time the DACA people have a lot of impact in our community, and now, with Harvey, we just do impact with our community, make sure that people understand the tenants’ rights, understand their rights to apply for any kind of help, like federal or locally, and make sure people has a pathway to recovery after Harvey punch Houston.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s a FIEL community organizer. You founded this group.

CESAR ESPINOSA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Cesar, talk about what it will mean, DREAMers, like yourself, DACA recipients, who now—attempting to rebuild, help their families in Houston, many of whom have been flooded out, the possibility of losing your jobs, of possibly being the only breadwinner in the family. Can you talk about the effect this will have on Houston? How many DACA recipients are in Houston alone? Is it something like 80,000?

CESAR ESPINOSA: Yes, there’s about 80,000 DREAMers in the greater Houston area who are beneficiaries of DACA, which is a very big number. It’s a very significant number compared to the national numbers.

Obviously, a lot of these young people were looking forward to helping their families rebuild by maintaining their jobs. So it could make it very difficult for them to actually do hurricane recovery after the massive storm that we just underwent. But like we’ve been going out into the communities, talking to a lot of folks. And the message that we’re telling them is the following. We’re telling them that our parents built our lives from zero, from nothing, when they came to this country, so, obviously, they can rebuild, and they can continue to build from nothing, if they were left without nothing. And we always remind them that they define their status, their status does not define them. And so, it’s important for folks to know this, so we can give them courage, so they can join the fight, and they can continue to fight, not only to build, but to rebuild, after this physical storm that we just went through.

AMY GOODMAN: Cesar, how old are you?

CESAR ESPINOSA: I am 31 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long have you been in this country?

CESAR ESPINOSA: I’ve been in this country for 26 years. My parents brought me here when I was 6 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based nonprofit that helps young undocumented members of the Latino community. Cesar himself is a DACA recipient.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, our own Juan González, his newest book has just been published, Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America’s Tale of Two Cities. Stay with us.

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