There's quiet crisis of conscience haunting Congress's precarious fight to pass a spending bill by the end of December. While Republicans have authorized $626 billion to fund defense efforts, Democrats are demanding that the bill also include legislation that enshrines the rights and protections of immigrants — above all, those living in the United States as DACA recipients. But with the deadline looming on December 22, it's unclear how moderate Democrats like Senators Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are weighing the potential political blowback of a holiday shutdown against the demands of grassroots organizations agitating for the more than 700,000 Dreamers whose futures have been plunged into uncertainty by the Trump administration.
It's a familiar story to Catalina Santiago of Homestead, Florida — a Miami suburb known for its agriculture industries. Santiago is a DACA immigrant who came to this country as a young girl when her parents left Mexico in search of work and a better life for their two kids. Santiagos' mom and dad are still undocumented, and they keep their family afloat through the grueling labor of picking ocra crops under the punishing Southern sun.
It'd be hard to estimate the extent to which President Trump's virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric has inflected our national discourse about the rights of the U.S.'s 11 million undocumented people and their attenuated status in our communities. Though federal courts have struck down his executive order seeking to deny funding to sanctuary cities, deportation rates have increased 38% under the new administration, with the biggest jump in arrests — a 156% leap from last year — impacting undocumented immigrants without criminal records.
But Catalina Santiago isn't giving up on the fight, for her own rights or those of her parents and the millions of laborers like them. If President Trump won the White House through his power to demonize undocumented people as law-breaking "bad hombres," Santiago is devoted to reframing the conversation by stressing their vital economic contributions. Last May, she joined forces with organizations like Movimiento Cosecha to stage a "Day Without Immigrants" — a nationwide strike empowering thousands of unauthorized workers to underscore the necessary, thankless, and often under-paid jobs they perform every day.
"We're trying to change the narrative, because right now the debate is whether or not we're wanted as immigrants," Santiago says. "We want the debate to be whether or not we're needed." By urging voters to confront the unseen value of the work performed by undocumented laborers, Santiago's continued advocacy aims to highlight the urgent (though invisiblized) ways undocumented workforces support industries ranging from agriculture to hospitality and construction.
Watch the video above to learn more about Santiago's struggle to spotlight the indispensable contributions made by undocumented immigrants in America.
There is a unprecedented wave of social protest across the United States. Divided Films is partnering with Refinery 29 on America Uprising, a journalistic documentary project telling stories of protest through first-person perspectives. It examines the tactics they are using, the policies they are protesting, and the policymakers they are resisting.
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