The Real Policymakers
As I was holding up a sign that read “Free healthcare for teens,” I saw seven capitol police officers approach my group, telling us we were not allowed to protest in the State Capitol. If we refused, we were to be kicked out. The problem was, we were not protesting nor being a nuisance. We were advocating and publicly supporting a budget proposal that would have provided healthcare to all young adults under 26 mirroring components of the ACA (American Care Act) regardless of immigration status, I tucked my sign away and followed the group to the Governor’s office, waiting to hand him letters from low-income families demanding he support this bill. He never showed.
This short experience offers a glimpse into one of the many opportunities I have when working at MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latinx legal civil rights organization that promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation. At such a crucial time where human lives are at stake, I wanted to intern at an organization whose work directly affected me. My parents immigrated to the United States around 29 years ago. They were fortunate to become citizens, but there are more members of my family fighting to be accepted by this country. I intended to use my fellowship in Sacramento to help them and my community; I want to fight back.
Since my fellowship has begun, I’ve had the chance to work on numerous projects ranging from lobbying bills, writing bill summaries, attending hearings, and doing investigations into California election systems. Although MALDEF has limited resources, it utilizes them to the utmost to advocate for our communities. Recently MALDEF filed a lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs against the State of Texas for violating the first, fourth, and fourteenth amendments with the passing of SB 4, a “show me your papers” law. The United States Government under the current Administration has taken an interest in the case, implicitly supporting SB 4. MALDEF is leading the fight to combat this unconstitutional law, and intends to win against the State of Texas and the government of the United States.
One of the most memorable experiences from this internship is meeting other organizations, groups, and individuals whom I had the chance the work with. MALDEF is part of numerous coalitions in the state, including ICE Out of CA and Due Process 4 All. I spent the day in San Francisco with Due Process 4 all exploring methods and plans of action to better the criminal justice system for immigrants. I also sat on phone conferences, lobbied, and attended press conferences with ICE Out CA to help push SB 54 forward. SB 54 would limit the relationship between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement or “ICE” to protect immigrants from being detained and deported. This bill would help protect the immigrant community in California.
Working with MALDEF and these coalitions inspired me to know our community is in safe hands, but it also changed my narrative of politics. Who we call policymakers aren’t the people who wear high heels, blazers and ties. Nor are they the ones sitting under a white dome, with the titles of senate or assembly. The true policymakers are these organizations and communities who put their work on the line to protect us. These organizations are the ones writing these bills, organizing press conferences, lobbying elected officials, and working to pass these bills and important or critical policies. If our state capitol is not providing safety and being a champion for our communities, who is? I want to thank these activists and attorneys for doing this work, fighting the politics, and putting their bodies on the line so no bodies will have to suffer from the state.
As I end my fellowship, I look forward to continuing this battle and carrying all the values I learned from this experience. We are not free until all of us are free. One of my favorite quotes hangs on top of my co-workers desk; it reads “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We have nothing to lose but our chains” –Assata Shakur.