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Young East Bay Immigrants Are Fighting the Good Fight

A coalition of young activists is pushing for a "Clean Dream Act" that would do more than just protect those enrolled in DACA.



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But other teachers and school administrators immediately pushed back against the protest, resulting in a low turnout for the student walk-out. This is what Diana Diaz says is the community's biggest obstacle: a lack of adult support for youth organizing and activism.

Diaz coordinates and hosts the Organizing Club meetings at the RYSE Youth Center. RYSE aims to transform Richmond into a city that embraces young, politically minded people, and the club works to mobilize students in all kinds of political activism. They go to city council and school board meetings, talk about current political issues, and share their experiences.

Diaz said students learn terms like "patriarchy" and "white supremacy," and she teaches them the terms' histories and how they apply to their own lives. "A lot of them get really angry, because they don't talk about this anywhere else," she said. "They didn't have the words for what they were experiencing."

Diaz sees students eager to organize and protest issues that impact their lives, but she's discouraged by the lack of resources from the school district and city officials. Not only are city council and school board meetings not youth-friendly, but they're only in English, which she says isolates Richmond's large immigrant community.

Diaz learned she was undocumented as a senior at Richmond High School, when she was accepted into a summer program at Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley. Since the program required job placement, she had to give a Social Security number. At the time, she didn't have one, so she continued into the program as a volunteer. But she had to start applying to college.

As Diaz and her mom filled out college applications, DACA went into effect. She qualified and went on to major in community studies at UC Santa Cruz. There, Diaz developed her passion for organizing and activism when she began to work with the Undocumented Students Office on campus.

For Diaz, a Clean Dream Act would mean decriminalizing all the people and families who didn't originally qualify for DACA. It would also mean getting rid of the division within immigrant communities.

"There shouldn't be a label on the identity that gets access to a Clean Dream Act," she said. "Queer, trans, people of color, Black people, and Latinos — it should be everyone."

Like Prieto, Diaz is tired of the "Dreamer narrative" that creates a caste system among immigrants. And she believes comprehensive immigration reform has to include the dismantling of detention centers. "We're supposed to be a sanctuary city, but we're still trying to expand our jails," she said, referring to the expansion of the county jail in Richmond.

Diaz sees these contradictions in politicians like Pelosi, too. She admires the pushback that groups like RISE have shown against those in leadership positions. Though she hasn't participated in the protests and she doesn't know whether anything will come from them, she wants these groups to keep demonstrating.

"If she has so much power, why isn't she using it to help?" she said of Pelosi.

On Sept. 17, President Trump met with Pelosi and Schumer to discuss the future of the Dream Act. They announced after a meeting that they had come to an agreement and were working on a deal that would protect Dreamers from deportation. (The deal later unraveled.)

On Sept. 18, Pelosi held an event in San Francisco to specifically call on Congress to pass a new Dream Act. She stood behind the podium with a "#ProtectDreamers" sign hanging on it. A group of young activists marched in front of her holding a red banner.

"Fight 4 all 11 million," it read.

They unfurled the banner, and the crowd of about 40 identified themselves as "undocumented youth." They chanted: "We are not a bargaining chip!"

Video from the event shows that Pelosi was hidden behind the banners and signs, almost invisible. And it was clear that she was confused by the crowd.

The protesters hijacked Pelosi's event. And they made demands: a clean bill, protection for all 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

It's hard to tell whether Pelosi was enraged, frustrated, or bewildered. Her attempts to grab the mic and shout over the protesters showed persistence and a willingness to have that dialogue. But there was also confusion.

"Let us speak!" the crowd continued to shout.

"You've asked some questions! You've asked some questions!" Pelosi replied.

Later, the protesters shouted "Yes or no?" to which Pelosi responded, "To what?"

She tried to regain control four or five times, moving around the crowd, her security close as she tried to speak directly to the loudest protesters. After about 40 minutes, the House leader and the other speakers — some of them Dreamers — left.

The protesters were resilient. Through call-and-response, they made their demands clear. There were few who were at the front of the crowd, those who yelled the loudest, who pointed directly at Pelosi, calling her a liar for negotiating with Trump behind closed doors.

But behind the crowd, at the end of the line, was Prieto, towering above the rest in a dark suit jacket and a white button-down shirt, a departure from his usual denim look. From the corner, he proudly held a sign that echoed the red banner and fervently chanted along with his fellow activists.


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