S02 E02: DACA – The Fight Continues


Welcome to Pod for the Cause, The Leadership Conferences’ new podcast! We’ve joined the airwaves to help spark conversation and activism on some of the most critical issues of today.

From the courts to immigration, we’re seeing unprecedented attacks on the values we hold near and dear. At Pod for the Cause, we’re going to tackle these issues and more. Our friends in the movement will be stopping by to have these conversations, and they promise to be real, straightforward and honest.

This podcast was created for those of you wanting to effect change, who understand the importance of restoring our democracy and want to engage in deep conversation around the issues. So check out all episodes of Pod for the Cause and subscribe now!

Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a 5-star review.

More on DACA

Pod Squad

Diali Avila Senior Field Manager The Leadership Conference
Karely Hernandez Regional Communications Associate FWD.us

Interview Guest

Martín Batalla Vidal Lead Plaintiff McAleenan v. Vidal (New York)

Our Host

voting rights, human rights, civil rights Ashley Allison Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs The Leadership Conference

Contact the Team

For all inquiries related to Pod For The Cause, please contact Brittany Johnson at [email protected] and Kenny Yi at [email protected].

Episode Transcript

[Music 00:00 – 00:12]

Ashley: Welcome to Pod for the Cause – the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, at civilrights.org, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights challenges of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington, D.C. Like we start off every show, we got the Pod Squad, where we discuss pop culture and social justice topics while bringing our issue areas into the conversation.

I have some amazing guests joining me on the Pod Squad today: Karely Hernández, who is the Regional Communications Associate at FWD.us, and Diali Avila, who is the Senior Field Manger at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Today we are talking about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, and the oral arguments to the Supreme Court to defend DACA because home is here. Welcome to the show, ladies.

Diali: Thank you! I’m so excited.

Karely: I know, me too, and great opening song. Hello Bad Bunny.

Ashley: Seriously. Hey. Alright, let’s just jump right in. The Supreme Court recently heard the oral arguments on DACA, which the Trump Administration rescinded DACA in 2017, putting hundreds and thousands of people who have been living in this country their whole life at risk of being deported, and there’s a lot of emotion whether you’re an immigrant or not, about this. Karely, what are you feeling about this case? What are you hearing on the streets? How are people feeling? What do you think might happen?

Karely: One of the most important things is that people are ready to continue the fight. This does not stop. November 12th was the day that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to determine if the Trump Administration ended this program in a legal way or not. This was not about the legality or constitutionality of DACA. A lot of federal courts have already determined that this program is legal and is constitutional.

This is one of the many, many battles that we still have to go, especially because we’re talking about 700,000 people whose lives would be impacted by this. They could be deported, they could lose their work permits, many of them could stop going to school – many things that a lot of us may take for granted. Some of them even have driver’s licenses thanks to DACA, so it’s small things like this that, in a way, humanizes somebody, when you’re in a country, and you can’t have basic rights.

Another thing that is really, really powerful to understand is that there are 256,000 kids – US citizen children – whose parents are DACA recipients, so if something happens to them, think about the impact on the kids.

Ashley: We know this administration does things that are detrimental to so many people, so I’m not surprised that they did it, but I do agree with the fight. Diali, what’s your take on all this?

Diali: Similarly to what Karely said, it’s been just another battle that’s been happening for many, many years, unfortunately. Sometimes we get a tiny win and then we lose it. As a person that comes from Arizona, and being a state that’s very anti-immigrant in the past, I think it just shows the strength that we have in our communities of not giving up because we’re here to stay, like we say all the time, and we’re not going anywhere until we get human dignity.

Ashley: One of the things that we learned recently in the news is Stephen Miller, who is one of the masterminds in the Trump White House – we saw emails that he had that is directly clear that he is anti-immigrant, is a white nationalist – is the problem in the world, and has access to the most powerful man in the world right now, Donald Trump, who is our president. It’s no surprise that, when you have someone informing the policies in the White House, like a Stephen Miller, that you have a situation like DACA.

One of the things that I think is interesting is, it’s important to hear about the policy battles that we’re fighting and bringing to the forefront, but a lot of this can also be brought in through pop culture. We now know that Netflix is releasing a series around Selena, which I remember – it’s one of those movies that come on TNT all the time. I always catch it when they’re getting on the tour bus or when she has that burgundy sequins jumpsuit with the triangle belly out, and I’m like, “Why will I never have abs like that?”

Karely: You got to rock it anyway, abs or no abs.

Ashley: Right, but I got introduced, actually, to Selena through that movie because, I think, in a lotta communities, particularly where I grew up in Ohio, we didn’t have a really large Latino population, honestly. It was more of just black and white. What does it mean to have something like the series Selena be brought back to life and be on Netflix?

Karely: I am smiling from ear to ear right now because I am so excited about this. I remember that, in college, we talked about Selena. To me, Selena was just an iconic movie, but then I went to college, we studied Selena, and there was a very particular scene in the movie, and it’s her dad, Selena, and her brother. They’re basically talking about being Mexican-American, and that, to me, was the first time that I felt so seen because we talk about – they’re talking about how it’s really tough to be Mexican-American because you have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans because you have to be proving yourself to some extent.

It’s this thing where you don’t belong here and you don’t belong there, and it’s a lot of border-crossing in our identities when we talk about it. It’s about being bicultural, and how do we embrace both things. I’m really excited. I’m a little nervous, to be honest. I wanna make sure that –

Ashley: They better do it right.

Karely: Thank you.

Diali: I know.

Ashley: They better do it right.

Karely: That is correct. That’s why I am really excited about this, and I’m so excited that, to some extent, we have brought Selena back. She was never really gone, but now we see her more prominently in our culture, and I think it’s amazing.

Diali: I remember when I was a little girl, my friends and I, we would play who’s a celebrity today, and I always wanted to pick somebody that was brown or had a name like me, and I had very few options. Selena was one of them, and I remember I would always fight to have her name.

I remember when she was shot and she died – I didn’t understand why the violence was there, but it was a tough moment. I think, like Karely said, it’s like she’s back again. She was never gone, but I feel like there’s a lot of buzz around her name now, which I really appreciate again. I think it puts the importance of seeing somebody that looks like you, that speaks like you at times, that rocks the red lipstick and the hoops, which I love that too. I just love her so much.

Ashley: Yeah, and hopefully a whole new generation of young, black, brown, white girls will see Selena and be reintroduced to her, but also open doors for other – there are many more Selenas out there that don’t have their Netflix series yet, and making sure that they know that they can do it, and bringing voice to various cultures and various identities is super important.

Karely: Definitely. My children will know about Selena.

Diali: The only thing that concerns me, similarly to – Frieda Kahlo died so long ago, but she’s being capitalized so much, and I feel like we need to focus on her talents, and the culture that she brings, and not to the money she could bring to the market.

Ashley: Yeah, just having a t-shirt with her or something like that.

Diali: Exactly.

Ashley: Speaking of violence, we talked about this on our last show – Atatiana Jefferson, who was killed in Dallas-Fort Worth area couple weeks ago while playing video games. It’s a terrible story. We talked about it before. We should not ever stop talking about it, but we recently learned that just weeks after she was killed, her father died, and it reminded me of Kalief Browder, when he committed suicide after being held in solitary confinement in Rikers, and then his mom died, and just how trauma has so many ripple effects, whether it is in death, whether it is in family separation, whether it is in trauma. Whatever it is, it’s not a one-time thing. It has lasting impacts. I don’t know if you all wanna say anything. It’s such a heavy subject to think about, but then the pain that family must be experiencing.

Karely: That heartache literally kill you. It is really sad. It is really sad that you can’t even feel safe in your own home. You’re playing video games, minding your business in your own home, and even there, you can’t feel that sense of safety. To me, it’s really sad, and I think about it. Personally, when my mom was deported, that heartache – it’s obviously not the same as this situation, but yes to the trauma that people live with for years, and that pain that you carry with you day after day.

Diali: The ripple effect that was mentioned, that carries from generations and generations – which is very sad to hear because a lot of our communities is very stigmatized or just very hard to access mental health as well, and we don’t talk about it enough. The other thing that I feel like it’s sad and makes me angry is that we talk about it because we should talk about it, but then we move on. What’s gonna happen when we shouldn’t stop talking about it? What’s the thing that’s gonna happen that’s not gonna silence us? I don’t know the answer, but it’s just very frustrating.

Ashley: I’m here with the Pod Squad. We have Karely Hernández, with FWD.us and Diali Avila, who is with us at the Leadership Conference. We do what we do on the Pod Squad, and that’s talk all the things that are happening in our world and on the issues. Thanksgiving is coming up. I love Thanksgiving. I love the food. I’m just having a moment right now thinking about it.

Karely: No words! I think your mouth is watering. That’s what’s happening.

Ashley: I’m sorry, I just – no, there’s this oyster dish that we only get on Christmas and Thanksgiving. It’s not like my mom can’t make it other times. She just won’t. I guess I can make it, too. Anyway.

Karely: Not the same.

Ashley: It’s not the same, but it reminds me of my grandmother, when she used to make it when she was with us, but how do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your family? What’s your favorite dish?

Diali: We migrated from Mexico when I was around 12, so we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Mexico. For me, it’s more like we have days off from school. We never actually made dinner or celebrated until we’re probably older, when I was in college, after college, but because my brother and I love to cook, so we just like, “Let’s cook Thanksgiving dinner.” Sometimes we try to put a twist of Mexican dishes in there. We might have a turkey, but with chili flavor –

Ashley: Ooh, a chili-flavored turkey.

Diali: It’s delicious.

Ashley: Wait, how do you do that? You put it in the turkey or on the turkey?

Diali: Yeah, you rub it with different spices and things like that. Not like chili –

Ashley: No, I know. The chilis, like a pepper, not beans and ground beef.

Diali: Which actually – I’m just kidding. My favorite dish, I think, is the pecan pie, just because I don’t get to eat it –

Ashley: You make that?

Diali: Oh no, I just like to buy it and eat it.

Ashley: What about you, Karely?

Karely: I am a witness to Diali’s cooking skills. I see her throwing down on Instagram all the time.

Ashley: Yeah?

Karely: I do, I do. Definitely my favorite is cheesecake. The reason why I love cheesecake so much is because my mom was always baking cheesecake year-round. She was selling it to people at church, she was selling it to people at work – she was known. She was basically the equivalent of this pecan pie lady – that was my mom with the cheesecake. I absolutely loved it because it was on Thanksgiving the only time that we could actually have it. My little brother and I – when she was at work and we’re on summer break, we would be whipping up cheesecakes for her so she can sell them, but on Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity to sit there and actually eat it. For our Friendsgiving that’s coming up this week, I’m making cheesecake.

Diali: You should teach me the recipe.

Karely: I’ll teach you. Well, it’s a little secret –

Ashley: Pie is some family recipes – she just has to make it and you have to buy one.

Karely: I’ll make it for you. That’s a good idea too.

Ashley: Karely, Diali, thank you so much for joining me on the Pod Squad today. Coming up, we have a very special guest: Martín Batalla Vidal – so don’t go anywhere.

[Music 12:50 – 13:15]

Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. Today we are talking all about DACA and the oral arguments to the Supreme Court to defend DACA, and have a very special guest with us today. Martín Batalla Vidal is the lead plaintiff in the McAleenan v. Vidal case out of New York. He’s a member of Make the Road New York and a DACA recipient. Welcome to the show.

Martín: Thank you so much for having me.

Ashley: Talk to me about how you ended up being a DACA recipient – before the case even happened, what your experience has been like in this country, and why DACA means to much to you.

Martín: DACA gave me the opportunity to become a [inaudible]. I was a step closer to make my American dream come true, which, as we know, being undocumented in this country, it’s hard. There’s not many possibilities, so I knew that once I applied for DACA, I knew my life was gonna change for good, and I was gonna contribute to my community – to make my mother proud ‘cause I know all the sacrifices that she did coming to this country, and giving me the opportunity to have an education to have a better lifestyle. I’m thankful for my mom, but I feel like they opened opportunities that honestly I would’ve never thought I was gonna accomplish.

Having been the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, and being able to go to school, being able to apply for a state ID, having Social Security – for other people it’s like nothing, but for me, it meant a lot.

Ashley: Can you talk about a little bit – before you even applied for DACA, what was your life like? You talked about living in the shadows. For someone like me, who hasn’t had to live in the shadows in the way that you have, I feel like it’s important that I hear from you directly what your life was like before DACA.

Martín: My mom – she brought me to the United States at the age of seven. At first – I know my mother was here ‘cause my grandma used to take care of us back in Mexico, but I knew my mother was here, and that she would send us money every week. I was so young, so I didn’t understood why my mother wasn’t there with me, but I knew I had my grandma. I always knew that I was undocumented, but I didn’t know what it meant. I was just like every American kid. I had to learn the language, the culture, the lifestyle. At the end I knew that my mother came to this country so we could have a better future. I knew that I wasn’t born here, but I didn’t capture it until I was in high school.

I asked my mom, “How come all my friends are having the working permit to work over the summer? How come I can’t apply?” She was like, “Oh ‘cause you not born here.” That’s when I started telling my family, what do you mean that I wasn’t born here and that’s when she told me. She was like, “You wasn’t born here, you’re not a US citizen, you’re not a green card holder. That means you cannot apply for state ID, you don’t have a Social Security to work legally in the country,” and I was devastated ‘cause I’m like, I’m over here trying to –

Ashley: Work, do the right thing.

Martín: Yeah. My mother was a single parent. I always try to do 110 percent in school, and I was always the top 10 in elementary school, junior high school, and high school ‘cause I wanted my mom to feel proud of me. I accomplished everything that I wanted during those years, and I’m like, well once I get to high school and you’re telling me all this work that I’ve been doing – trying to be an A student, trying to do everything right and you’re telling me that I can’t do certain things.

I was upset about that. I was upset at my mom, but I realized then – I actually would not be where I’m at the moment if it wasn’t for my mom. We getting all the credit. We are the DREAMers. We’re not the dreamers; our parents are the dreamers. Because of them – they wanted to have us an education, they wanted us to be somebody in life. They want us to have opportunities that unfortunately they couldn’t have. They wished they could, so that’s why people come here, to make the American Dream.

Ashley: I think you deserve a little credit because you, one, are fighting an incredibly important fight. You are living in the shadows. You aren’t able to do the things that you wanna do to get a job. You can’t go to school, and you’re doing all the things that you’re supposed to do, but you have this block, and then under the Obama Administration, DACA is put in place. Then 2016 happens, and you are able to come out of the shadows under the Obama Administration, and then in the first year of the Trump Administration, the president decides to rescind DACA and put 700,000 people’s lives at risk, and you say, “Absolutely not.” You become one of the lead plaintiffs in the case that the Supreme Court just heard. Tell me how you found the courage to say, “I am going to stand up and fight for my place in this country.”

Martín: It was a tough decision ‘cause at the end of the day, I knew that somebody had to do something about it. I knew that a lotta people were counting on DACA. As you know, the age to apply for DACA was 15, and there were a lot of students that wasn’t 15 at the time. A lotta people came up to me, they were like, “Since you’re already out there” – I was doing activism through my community. What is gonna happen to ours? We’re counting on DACA to work.

I’m top 10 in my school, I’m trying to do everything the right way, and now you’re telling me that I cannot apply for DACA? It was devastating ‘cause I’m like, “How come I have the opportunity and how come they don’t have it?” It inspired me to do more than just activism, so that’s when they asked me, do you wanna be part of this lawsuit? I couldn’t say no. Hell yeah.

Ashley: That’s right.

Martín: I was like, “Hell yeah,” and honestly, I always started before DACA – I was scared to be undocumented ‘cause in my culture, if you say you’re Hispanic, and you say you’re undocumented, people think that we’re gonna get deported – you know. I’m talking about arresting, high school – don’t tell anybody that you’re undocumented ‘cause immigration might come pick you up.

Through DACA I was able to tell people I’m gay, I’m undocumented, and I’m proud of it. That was my whole thing, especially with the whole Trump Administration targeting LGBT communities, targeting Hispanics, targeting Mexicans. I feel like I fit the whole category. I’m gay, I’m Mexican, I’m not a criminal. They asked me to be part of this lawsuit, and I was like, “Yeah, I had to do this for my community” because we knew from the beginning it was a temporary relief

Ashley: And it’s not comprehensive relief for all immigrants living here, which we actually wanna get to a place where there are pathways to citizenship for more than just people with DACA recipients. You are a plaintiff in a Supreme Court case. You’re in the courtroom, fighting the case – did you feel like the attorney was able to convince the justices – was it tense in the room? What were you feeling? I can’t even imagine what it might be like.

Martín: I’m like, “Oh my god. I really sued the government, and I’m over here not only fighting for myself, but fighting for several hundred thousand DREAMers out there. I couldn’t believe it. Undocumented like myself, Mexican, gay, going inside the Supreme Court – I didn’t even have words to describe it. The thing is, I knew that I was doing the right thing, and I was happy that – like I said, at the end of the day, DACA has come out of the shadows. I came out of the shadows and a lotta people came out of the shadows. We were able to express who we are.

When the judges came out, and I’m like, “Finally.” We was in the [inaudible] for so long. I was really looking forward to seeing all the judges, and they were able to see us. We’re the DREAMers, we’re the ones that is gonna be affected if DACA is resigned. This is one battle that we gonna win, and it was great, honestly. I still don’t even have words to explain how so ‘cause it was so for real. I would’ve never thought an undocumented like myself would be suing the government and was gonna be in front row seeing of the judges. Whatever decision they could affect me and everybody else.

Ashley: As we wrap up this conversation, what gives you hope – regardless of what the decision is because you are fighting the right fight, and history will be on your side, but regardless of what happens when the justices make their decision, what is going to give you hope to keep fighting?

Martín: Like I said, my family, myself. When we were inside the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked the administration if they had ever considered that decision to end DACA was a choice to survive. By her saying that meant a lot for us ‘cause she understands what it means for us to lose DACA, but what it meant for our family, through the community, and at the end of the day, we’re gonna keep on fighting. I first started with DACA, then it was DACA, TPS, and 11 million undocumented that’s currently in this country. We’re gonna keep fighting ‘cause at the end of the day we need a broader program – 11 million undocumented could benefit from it.

Ashley: Today we are joined with one of the freedom fighters of our generation. We have Martín Batalla Vidal, who is the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case out of New York to defend DACA. Thank you for joining Pod for the Cause. You should know that you are not fighting alone. You have the 700,000 DREAMers and DACA recipients, but you have the whole Leadership Conference family coalition, me, and a whole lotta people that have your back and will keep fighting, so thank you for being on the show today.

Martín: Thank you so much.

Ashley: Coming up, I’ll hit you with some real talk during our hot takes segment, where I get a few things off my chest in three minutes or less.

[Music 22:16 – 22:33]

Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause, where we’ve been talking all about DACA, immigration, and the Supreme Court oral argument. Between our Pod Squad and Martín Batalla Vidal, I have a few things to say. This hot take will feel a little different. I’m gonna give you some facts, and then I’m gonna share something that I think we all need to hear because the reason why we do Pod for the Cause is not just to tell stories, but so that we actually know how we can take action to not fight just for the things that impact us, but the things that impact other people.

Nearly 700,000 people’s lives will be ruined if the Supreme Court does not uphold DACA to stay in place, but we know that it just won’t be those 700,000 people. It will be their families also who will be fearful that their family members will be deported. You can still renew your DACA status. A lotta people think the program is over, but it’s not. If you are a DACA recipient, and you need to renew your paperwork, please make sure you do it. I know sometimes the financial barrier around DACA is real, so if you are concerned about legal support or financial support to renew your DACA, go to informedimmigrant.com.

Now that’s the business, but let me just be real. It wasn’t until August 2017, which was just a couple months before DACA was actually rescinded, that I met, knowingly, my first undocumented person. I’m sure I had met other people, but there was no one that ever felt comfortable enough to tell me that they were living their lives in the shadows. And I think that’s important because I used to work in the Obama White House before that time. I’ve always been an advocate, but that meant I wasn’t really advocating for immigrant rights because I didn’t know anyone that needed those rights.

I was advocating for policing rights, and education rights, but I was not being a good ally to the immigrant community, and I’m a black person. There’s a lotta conversation about distrust between black and brown communities, but guess what folks: we don’t have time for that. We can’t be afraid of immigrant communities and immigrant communities can’t be hostile towards black folks because the white nationalists, the white supremacists – they will win if we do not work together.

There are black immigrants. There are brown immigrants. There are white immigrants. DACA is not just a program for Mexican immigrants. It is a program that will save the lives of people in all shades and colors. And even if you are not an immigrant, and you are an indigenous person from this land, or you’re a black person, you have to stand up and fight for every DACA recipient, and every person that might not even be eligible for DACA because if they come for immigrant communities, you better believe they’re gonna come for you next.

I pledge to be a better ally to immigrant communities, to fight for their rights just like I would fight for Atatiana Jefferson, or Michael Brown, or Sandra Bland. I will fight for Martín, I will fight for Karely, I will fight for José, I will fight for Jonathan, I will fight for Greisa because I know that when I need them, they will fight for me.

If you’re a DACA recipient and you wanna help more people get their renewals or protect immigrant rights, please go to informedimmigrant.com, and please know that home is here.


[Music 25:54 – 26:04]


Ashley: Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up on Twitter, @podforthecause. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and please leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.