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.
Sandra Esther Avalos Ortega
Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Sandra Esther Avalos Ortega came to the U.S. in 1996 at a young age. Even before she received protections through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals* (DACA) program, Sandra dedicated herself to empowering disadvantaged youth in her home city of Dallas, Texas. She entered the advocacy space to fight for the rights and safety of immigrant families like hers and to ensure that all people in the Lone Star State can live long, happy, and prosperous lives.
In border states like Texas, immigrants and their families are often the backbones of their communities, but they are frequently the targets of persecution by local politicians and police, making them feel unsafe. In response to this maltreatment, young immigrants and allies have formed local networks to defend immigrants’ rights, meet the needs of their own communities, and join together against attacks on their well-being. In that spirit, Sandra joined a group of young immigrant activists in the Dallas area known as the North Texas Dream Team*. Today, as the group’s vice president, Sandra is helping lead their efforts to empower immigrant communities in the north Texas area—providing legal defense and financial assistance to those in need and holding state and local leaders accountable through mass mobilization.
Sandra is a Millennial and self-proclaimed powerful, unapologetic Latina who fights to empower her community—especially young immigrants. She’s also the proud mother of a ten-year-old daughter, Judith, who shares her mother’s activist spirit.
We talked with Sandra 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?
After fighting thyroid cancer and a deep depression that resulted from ending my marriage of nine years, I found the North Texas Dream Team. It changed my life forever. My first day of action was in Austin protesting against SB4*. We took over the capitol building and shut it down. I was accompanied by my daughter. It was the very first time I shouted, “Undocumented, Unafraid”, “Sin Papels, Sin Miedo.” I felt so empowered and finally ready to leave the shadows. From that moment, I was determined to empower others—to live life unafraid and help people understand that they are not alone.
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?
I love having the opportunity to connect with others like myself who have DACA as well as people who are undocumented because I understand their uncertainty and frustration as well as their resilience and willingness to fight until the end.
What are you working on right now that the media is—or should be—paying attention to?
We just concluded a march from New York to Washington D.C. to spread awareness about the Supreme Court hearing that took place on November 12th. We want the nation to see us as humans and understand that all we want is dignity for all and the right to continue working and providing for our families in the place we call home.
What kind of future are you working towards for immigrant communities? How do you think the movement will help create that future?
We are working not only for the right to work granted by DACA but also for the right to be here in the place we call home without the fear of deportation. That’s why we need a path that leads to citizenship.
I believe in people power and the importance of empowering each other because no one knows what we need better than we do. So, by listening and supporting each other, we will not only get the equality we deserve but in the process, make our nation better.
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?
We need allies who can vote and share our truth in spaces where we are not able to be present. And again, people power, which comes with numbers—we need you to show up and show out.
As an immigrant, how do you hope to see allies demonstrate support?
First, I need my allies to tell our elected officials to support not only Dreamers but also the rest of my immigrant community, to fix our immigration system, and, more than anything, to abolish ICE, an agency that is only attacking and hurting our communities.
Second, I need allies to stay informed and share the real truth about my immigrant community.
Third, I need my allies to become active—volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. If you cannot, then donate, donate, donate, either to fund DACA renewals or to support organizations that are on the ground with the community doing the work.
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.
SB4 – Texas Senate Bill 4 is a state law passed and signed during the 85thTexas Legislative session in 2017, intended to attack “sanctuary cities” and give local law enforcement agencies the authority to act as federal immigration officers. Though the courts blocked parts of the law as being unconstitutional, local TX officials are still allowed to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine stops and share information with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
North Texas Dream Team -The North Texas Dream Team is a community-led nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance the dreams and goals of students; to educate and bring awareness to everyone, regardless of color, when it comes to issues in our communities.