Three summers ago, my Stanford Law classmates and I were volunteering at an immigration detention center in rural Texas to help asylum seekers. While we were there, President Donald Trump, in a blink of a tweet, rescinded DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
A member of our volunteer team was a DACA recipient, and he decided to drive back to Stanford alone. But with DACA protections now up in the air, there was no way I would let him risk a multi-state trip by himself. So, I jumped in the car and together we hit the road. I feared his work permit had protections only as strong as the paper it was printed on.
I know border patrol checkpoints. I grew up on the Southern California border, surrounded by checkpoints to the north and west. I was in kindergarten during the peak Proposition 187 years and am one of the 16.7 million Americans with a mixed-status family. While Prop. 187 was never fully enacted, it whipped up a fervor of anti-immigrant activity, similar to Arizona under SB 1070, that cut just as deep.
On our journey through Texas, we were stopped twice at checkpoints. I’ve been through checkpoints hundreds of times. But this time, sweat pooled down my neck and my stomach spiraled. One stop was particularly scary.
My friend was ordered out of the car. With his permit in hand, the agent said, “This doesn’t work anymore.”
“We’re just trying to get back to Stanford!” I yelled from the driver’s seat. Performative academia and the Stanford bumper sticker helped a lot in that moment. “We’re grad students!”
He asked to see our student identification. I think he thought we were lying. He came up to the driver’s side. “This doesn’t work anymore, got it?” he said of the permit.
We peeled off, not stopping again until the gas tank was about to hit empty.
It was maddening to feel so helpless.
Waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide this month on the termination of DACA feels the same way. There are so many unknowns. We cannot ever fully understand the depth of anguish and complexity of feelings our DACA-mented friends feel as they manage life in one-year intervals. But, regardless of outcome, we should take solace in knowing we’ve been down this road before.
The lessons of Prop. 187 remind us that the future of the immigrants’ rights movement is in our hands. In 1994, 10,000 students walked out of classes, 70,000 people flooded downtown Los Angeles and a generation of leaders emerged from a blatantly racist attack on the Latinx community. The lessons from Prop. 187 ring clear: the actions we take now to demand dignity will outlive this moment, no matter how bleak.
Because of those walkouts, my peers and I grew up in a California drastically different from what Prop. 187 envisioned. We cannot ignore the line from immigrants’ rights activism in the ’90s to the direct actions in the 2010s. Some led quiet, but critical acts of allyship: driving friends to college campuses, telling their stories at college forums, holding elected officials to account and organizing on campuses and communities.Some were more visible: the protests, walkouts, the early grainy flip phone videos of disrupted deportations, activists tying themselves to van tires, the banner drops over highways. Some changed the course of history. The solemn march of four immigrant youth from Miami, Fla., to Washington, D.C., on the “trail of dreams” sparked the term “Dreamer.” Patricia Okoumou shocked the world by climbing the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July to protest the detention of migrant children.
Prop. 187 emboldened a generation. Those who fought for DACA organized a future into existence. And today’s immigrants’ rights movement is primed to learn from Black Lives Matters’ steadfast commitment to long-term movement planning. Now it’s our turn.
When we finally made it out of Texas, the road ahead broke into cotton-candy pink skies. Zipping past the desert sky felt like freedom. Like this moment, we did not know what obstacles lie ahead, but we knew the journey. Like those who marched against Prop. 187, fighting for the next generation they did not know and could not see, we too must continue the journey. There are pink skies and a better future ahead.
Sophia Carrillo is a Latino Community Foundation Sacramento Giving Circle member and a board member of the American Constitution Society Sacramento Chapter, email@example.com. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.