This is a series created and published by Generation Progress to highlight the young and diverse individuals who are dedicated to fighting for the rights and safety of immigrant communities throughout the U.S. and to share their perspectives on ways in which young people can be powerful forces for change. The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interview subjects. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Generation Progress.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Fernanda Herrera grew up fighting for her community in Gadsen, Alabama. Now a second-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Fernanda has been a source of inspiration for many young immigrants and aspiring advocates who wish to define their own futures and fight for justice.
Like many Dreamers, Fernanda came to the U.S. at a young age. Living in Alabama, Fernanda faced restrictive state laws that were designed to make immigrants like her feel unwelcome and to limit their potential. Alabama is one of only two states that bars undocumented students from enrolling in any state public university and students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections are still prohibited from attending certain universities in the state.
However, Fernanda has never let these limitations stop her. With the support of her family and community, Fernanda completed her bachelor’s at Samford University. Now, she’s well on her way to earning a law degree, which she intends to use to fight for the legal rights of those in migrant detention. She is taking command of her own destiny: helping her family and community ensure the protection of their rights and safety. She is combating narratives that only “good” or “deserving” immigrants should be allowed to have safe and prosperous futures—futures that Fernanda believes all immigrant families deserve.
We talked with Fernanda to learn more about why she is in the fight and what YOU can do to be a part of it. Check out her Q&A below:
When did you get involved in the immigrants’ rights movement, and why did you decide to go into the kind of work you are doing now?
I got involved in 2015 when I was doing research through my school and an internship with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ). That summer we went to the Ninth Circuit court to protest for DAPA/DACA+* and I helped the ACIJ organize a caravan of activists and community leaders to go.. Through my research, I learned that my experiences were very similar to those of many other people in Alabama and I set about searching for solutions to the issues that many of us faced through activism.
What is particularly unique about the work you’re doing at your organization, and how does it reflect your values as a young person trying to affect change in immigration policy? What are you working on right now that the media is—or should be—paying attention to?
Young activists are staying active in Alabama, where it is difficult to do so. I, however, am in Chicago working on my law degree so I am less involved with any one group and more focused on sharing my story individually. It is important to recognize that the meritocracy narrative that has been created in our communities by the media, which labels DACA recipients as “good immigrants,” is divisive. We do not need to be lawyers, doctors, nurses, or teachers to deserve to stay in our homes and earn a living. I am currently just working on living and getting through each day. I am working on making sure my family and friends know their rights and are prepared for the next raid in their area.
What kind of future for immigrant communities are you working towards? How do you think the movement will help create a better future for immigrant communities?
I am hopeful that our community will be more united in the coming months as we all join efforts to advocate for DACA*. Unfortunately, our recent meetings with members of Congress have made it clear that there will not be a solution for the entire immigrant community any time soon, but the more we keep sharing our stories, the easier it will be to make a case for change. I have become more focused on the crisis at the border and in detention centers lately, and am hopeful that there will be a new generation of attorneys dedicated to defending those in detention centers—I hope to be one of them.
Why should young adults, especially those who aren’t directly impacted by current immigration policies, get involved in the kind of work you are doing?
It is important for society as a whole that we care about the world around us. Apathy simply makes the world colder and more lonely. I am not sure how one can be an American and not be utterly disgusted by the detention centers and family separation happening at the border. At the very least, becoming informed and sharing information with others is an easy way to get involved.
How do you hope to see allies demonstrate support?
I hope to see allies learn about the history of the country and the role that the US has played in making our countries unlivable. I hope to see allies help pay for bonds, help pay lawyers fees, or—if they are lawyers—represent clients pro bono in their deportation cases. A few billable hours can make the difference between someone being home or someone sleeping in a cold cell with no food and no family support. It is not enough to change your Facebook profile picture or go to a march. A $5 donation to a bond crowdfund makes a huge difference.
DACA– Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created in the Obama administration to protect young immigrants who entered the U.S. at a young age from the risk of being deported. The program also gives recipients a chance to work and go to school in the U.S. The Trump administration attempted to end the program in 2017, but ongoing lawsuits have kept DACA in-place. The Supreme Court is presently considering the case on DACA, with the court’s decision on the fate of the program expected in 2020.
DACA+– An expansion to the DACA program introduced in 2014 by the Obama administration, nicknamed DACA+, that was intended to expand application eligibility to more young immigrants who entered the U.S. as children. The program was challenged by a group of Republican state attorneys general and blocked in a federal district court. It was brought to the Supreme Court in 2015 in the U.S. v. Texas case, and a 4-4 split-decision in June 2016 left the program blocked and unimplemented.
DAPA– Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program. Introduced by the Obama administration in 2014, it would have de-proioritized deportation for certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and parents of lawful permanent residents would grant them temporary permission to stay in the U.S. Along with the DACA+ program, DAPA was challenged and appealed in the Supreme Court in the U.S. v. Texas case, and was ultimately blocked and unimplemented due to the court’s 4-4 split decision in June 2016.