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.
Lauryn Fanguen was born in Fez, Morocco to parents of Moroccan and Cameroonian ancestry. She and her family came to the Washington D.C. area when she was only three years old. Now a grown woman and immigrant “Dreamer”* who has lived around the nation’s capitol nearly her entire life, Lauryn’s experiences have informed her advocacy around the issues affecting the diverse American immigrant community.
Lauryn graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2019—just months before the Supreme Court will determine the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)* program, which allowed Lauryn to access a higher education and attend classes in relative safety. Lauryn is grateful for the opportunities she’s been provided, and she knows what’s at stake for her community the and hundreds of thousands of other DACA recipients who depend on the program to continue living and working in this country. She is using her voice to bring a shared humanity to the issues facing immigrant families and to rally others to act in solidarity.
Lauryn knows that immigrants have complicated and intersecting identities—their immigrant identities are interwoven with their identities as women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and disabled people. Lauryn understands the significance of how we combine those issues when we talk about them—weaving the connections into strong bonds between communities who, while fighting for different issues, are nevertheless linked.
We talked with Lauryn 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 first get involved in the immigrants’ rights movement, and why did you decide to do the kind of advocacy you’re doing now?
I first got involved in general activism in high school. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, it’s normal to stay informed and attend rallies. This very quickly became my “lane.” I had not focused my activism on immigration until the Trump administration first attempted to rescind DACA, but when that happened I felt that I had to start sharing my story. I knew that I would be expected to be vocal about this issue, since I had been that way about all similarly hot topics, and I felt like hiding my personal connection would have been disingenuous. I had to use my voice and position within my community to humanize DACA recipients.
You just graduated from college at the same time when the U.S. Supreme Court of the U.S is considering the fate of the DACA program. Given the program’s protections that have allowed you and so many other Dreamers to pursue your studies and careers in relative safety, what are your thoughts about this moment in our country?
This country is at a crossroads and vulnerable communities are scared because our lives are at stake. I graduated college early with a 4.0 but it wasn’t easy. Getting paid internships to pay for my education out of pocket on my own was by far the most mentally and emotionally exhausting thing I’ve ever done. At one point I was balancing being a full-time student with two internships and volunteering. I was forced to grow up quickly and face responsibilities many of my peers did not. But DACA is what made me eligible to legally work and pay for school. If DACA ends and Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform, life as I know it will be over.
What is particularly important about what you’re doing to advocate for immigrant communities? How does it reflect your values as a young person trying to affect change in immigration policy?
Racial representation in advocacy and policy matters. I am intentionally vocal about my immigration status and my Blackness because this issue is often seen as a Latino issue. I also share my story to fight the media narrative around immigrants. While doing so, I’m careful to not equate my personal victories to my worthiness. As young people, we have come to realize that everyone is different and has their talents and limitations. Yet that does not make anyone worth more than someone else. This fact should be reflected in our immigration policies—we should not score people based on arbitrary requirements but instead recognize our shared humanity.
How can we use more nuance when talking about issues, like DACA, that are important to the immigrant community?
The racial diversity of DACA recipients is vastly overlooked. I’m very open about the fact that I was born in Morocco, but no one has ever thought to question my immigration status. Growing up, I overheard jokes addressed to many of my Latino peers about their lack of documentation, but they did not think to direct those same jokes at me. When DACA is framed as a Latino issue, you’re ignoring the Black, Asian, and even white DACA recipients and limiting our ability to build a broader coalition. When discussing the immigrant community, like with all communities, it’s imperative to avoid using stereotypes and intentionally and actively fight your implicit bias.
As an immigrant, how do you hope to see allies demonstrate their support?
I hope to see allies educate themselves before accidentally falling prey to false mainstream narratives. For example, I have heard countless people describe DACA as “a program Obama started that gives temporary deportation relief for young people who came into the United States illegally.” That is not accurate. Many undocumented people, myself included, did not come in illegally. We came in legally with a visa and overstayed. While this detail may seem minute, it is just one example of the inaccurate statements that well-intentioned allies constantly repeat. This misinformation is detrimental to the movement.
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?
My hope for the future of immigrant communities is that immigrants themselves can determine their futures. Growing up, my opportunities were constantly limited because of my status. I was always smart, charismatic, outgoing, and determined. But my biggest fear was failing to reach my full potential—not because I wasn’t good enough, but because my immigration status wouldn’t let me. I didn’t get over this fear until I graduated from college. For a long time, I wasn’t sure that would even happen. Undocumented students don’t get financial aid or federal loans, which made financing my education more difficult. My status could have stopped me from graduating.
How can we reach people who may not know a lot about–or may be indifferent to–the issues facing immigrant communities? How can we bring more young people into the movement, even if they aren’t personally affected by immigration issues?
It’s important to highlight how immigration is connected to whatever other issues people care about. Many of the issues young adults care about are intersectional. We’re passionate about LGBTQ rights, racial equity, access to healthcare, higher wages, etc. Sometimes young adults fail to see the connections with immigration and these other issues.
Undocumented LGBTQ people might get killed if they’re deported back to a country that doesn’t celebrate who they are. Undocumented Black people, who are statistically more likely to get pulled over by cops because of their race, can then get deported if that cop calls in ICE. Undocumented people are less likely to have health care and are exploited by companies who pay them below the minimum wage because they can’t fight back.
It’s all connected.
Dreamer – Sometimes written as “DREAMers”; refers to those individuals who were brought to the U.S. at an early age and, while lacking a legal immigration status and rights of citizenship, have grown-up and lived in the country nearly their entire lives. The term’s origins come from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which was introduced in 2001 to provide these young immigrants with a pathway to permanent legal status and, eventually, citizenship.
DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created in the Obama administration era 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.