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Exclusive: Jose Antonio Vargas Talks #EmergingUS, Political Activism, and Immigrant Rights

In 2011, Pulitzer Prize award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed he was undocumented in an essay for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Since then, Vargas has started two organizations – #EmergingUS and Define American – dedicated to fighting for immigration rights. He now finds himself in Des Moines, Iowa, joining the political conversation just in time for the caucuses. Vargas spoke with we are mitú and discussed the purpose of #EmergingUS and his constant fight to help other undocumented immigrants.

Why is it important for Define American to be in Iowa right now?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Undocumented Iowa, a short documentary, was produced by #EmergingUS, a new digital platform on race, immigration, and identity that will launch very soon. And this short documentary premiered at the inaugural Define American Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. Actually, Undocumented Iowa opened the film festival, which showed six feature films and six short documentaries in three days. Is there an issue as central to this primary season (especially among Republicans) and as politicized and partisan as immigration? Define American’s chief goal is to humanize and personalize immigration, especially to potential caucus-goers in Iowa, where the flood of immigration-oriented television and radio ads is non-stop. Define American hosted this inaugural film festival in Des Moines because we must humanize the immigration issue to Iowans.

Credit: Define American / Facebook

Why did you choose undocumented Iowans for your documentary?

Vargas: Far too often, undocumented immigrants are the objects of the debate, rarely the ones with the agency to tell their own stories and frame their own narratives. There are an estimated 40,000 undocumented immigrants who call Iowa their home. #EmergingUS wanted to hear from them directly.

READ: These Undocumented People Can Teach Us All How to Handle and Shut Down Haters with Humor

What do you hope people take away after watching Undocumented Iowa?

Vargas: All content from #EmergingUS strives for connection and empathy. When Kenia Calderon–one of the undocumented Iowans featured in the documentary–says that “growing up, all I wanted was to have a college degree, to give it to my parents as a gift for everything that they did, for every toilet that they have washed,” I imagine that any parent would connect with that emotion.

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An Undocumented Mother In Iowa Is Sharing Her Story Through A Podcast

Culture

An Undocumented Mother In Iowa Is Sharing Her Story Through A Podcast

Laura Rodriguez is an undocumented mother living in Iowa and she is sharing her experience. Rodriguez is sharing her life using one of the most popular forms of media right now: the podcast. “Undocumented Momhood” gives people a chance to listen to what her life is like.

Laura Rodriguez is using her podcast “Undocumented Momhood” to create a space for women like her to find community.

Rodriguez has been wanting to create a podcast of her experience for a long time coming. The mother realized that she was always outnumbered when she went to mommy classes and couldn’t connect with anyone. That frustration led to her wanting to create something people could relate to.

“I was 22 years old when I had the kids and I had zero community around me,” Rodriguez recalls in an interview. “I often attended ‘mom groups’ to try to find my people and little friends for the twins but it never worked. Luca, Azul and I were always the only Latinx (people) in the whole group. Often you could see the class difference because they made it obvious for you to see and feel. After a few of these uncomfortable visits and many cries later I decided to just focus on being home with just the babies.”

Rodriguez’s husband created Amplified DSM and gave her a chance to reach an audience and fully tell her story. She has long been out as an undocumented woman and it was the 2016 elections that convinced her to come out as undocumented. Her biggest reason to come out was to lead her children by example.

“I always spoke to my children about the importance of being yourself and I wasn’t being my fully honest self,” Rodriguez says. “I had this heavy weight over my shoulders about my legal status that had follow me since I was 14 years old. I wanted to be free. I wanted everyone to know that this insane label that was put on us ‘illegal immigrants’  was wrong. I will always fight for my undocumented community they are my biggest inspirations.”

Rodriguez wanted to include her kids in the podcast.

“Azul, Luca, and I have this incredible connection so I wanted to honor them by recording our first episode together because, well, one because they are the ones that made me a mother and it made sense but also becoming Luca and Azul’s mother literally save my life,” Rodriguez says. “From the point on, they have been my teachers, my constant inspiration to keep fighting and to keep living. Plus they are so funny and smart I love my children. They are so fun to have conversations with.”

She wants her podcast to help break down the stereotypes of undocumented people.

“I want people to take away that undocumented people also have their own stories,” Rodriguez says. “[They have] their own struggles as a parent as humans. We are not only a label. Even though it seems everything we do to make a living and take care of our families is illegal, it only is because of our government.”

Rodriguez wants people to know that undocumented people are contributing to their communities. They are opening businesses, starting families, and living in a place that they want to make better themselves.

The podcasting mother says that the future episodes will dive deeper into the reality of living life as an undocumented person in the U.S.

“In the coming episodes, the conversations switch from a cute chat with my kids to the reality of immigration or real talks about motherhood,” Rodriguez says. “[For] example, women not liking being pregnant, not liking breastfeeding, or mothers not feeling that deep connection. “We are going to touch on so many of those taboo topics. I’m extremely grateful for everyone that has listened.”

You can listen to Rodriguez at Amplified DSM.

READ: Chicago’s Mi Tocaya Is Offering Up Free Mexican Homemeals For Undocumented Community

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President Joe Biden Signs Executive Order To Preserve DACA

Things That Matter

President Joe Biden Signs Executive Order To Preserve DACA

January 22, 2021

The Trump administration spent years trying to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Obama-era program was important in helping young undocumented adults who came to the country when they were children. President Joe Biden has restored it.

President Joe Biden has restored DACA to its original 2012 form.

President Biden was with President Obama when DACA was passed to protect the young adults who benefit from the program. President Biden’s executive order is giving hundreds of thousands of young adults protections and the ability to work once again.

“This memorandum, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) guidance, deferred the removal of certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, have obeyed the law, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military,” reads the memorandum posted on the White House website. “DACA and associated regulations permit eligible individuals who pass a background check to request temporary relief from removal and to apply for temporary work permits. DACA reflects a judgment that these immigrants should not be a priority for removal based on humanitarian concerns and other considerations and that work authorization will enable them to support themselves and their families, and to contribute to our economy, while they remain.”

Original: During the 2020 election, Latinos were a massive electoral voting bloc. In fact, for the first time ever, the Latino vote outnumbered the Black vote. According to the Pew Research Center, there are now 32 million eligible Latino voters and that accounts for 13 percent of all eligible voters. 

And, Latinos helped deliver the presidency to Joe Biden. So it can be expected that the community has high expectations for Joe Biden to deliver on his campaign promises of immigration reform.

During a recent speech about his first 100 days in office, Joe Biden outlined his priorities once he’s sworn in on January 20th, and said he would “immediately” send an immigration bill to congress.

Joe Biden promises swift action on immigration reform as soon as he takes office.

Over the weekend, President-Elect Joe Biden promised he would take swift action when it comes to immigration reform and rolling back many of the cruel and dangerous policies put into place by the Trump administration.

“I will introduce an immigration bill immediately,” he said in a news conference on Friday.

Although he didn’t go into detail regarding the proposed legislation, he’s previously committed to ending Trump’s ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim nations, and that he wants a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and an increase in guest worker permits to help bring undocumented agricultural workers – many of whom are now considered “essential workers” – out of the shadows.

Biden had already promised an immigration overhaul within the first 100 days of his presidency but this commitment definitely increases the pressure on him and congress to get things done.

Biden also said his justice department will investigate the policy of child separation.

During the same press conference, Biden said that his Justice Department will determine responsibility for the family separation program, which led to more than 2,600 children being taken from caregivers after crossing the U.S. southern border, and whether it was criminal.

“There will be a thorough, thorough investigation of who is responsible, and whether or not the responsibility is criminal,” Biden said. That determination will be made by his attorney general-designate, Merrick Garland, he added.

During the campaign, Biden finally took responsibility for many of his administration’s immigration failures.

Nicknamed the “Deporter in Chief,” Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history with over 3 million deportations during his time in office. 

But as part of that administration, Joe Biden is also complicit. That’s why during the campaign he seemed to acknowledge at least some of the pain the duo caused.

“Joe Biden understands the pain felt by every family across the U.S. that has had a loved one removed from the country, including under the Obama-Biden Administration, and he believes we must do better to uphold our laws humanely and preserve the dignity of immigrant families, refugees, and asylum-seekers,” Biden’s immigration plan reads. 

While Obama’s methods pale in comparison to the cruel tactics like family separation, inhumane conditions, and targeted raids, the impact the deportations have had on families is cannot be quantified.

Biden, like any Vice President, is put in the position of having to defend his president, but also himself as the future president. This isn’t a bad thing, Biden must distinguish himself from his predecessor but if the shadow of Obama’s legacy is buying him goodwill, it might be difficult to undermine that administration’s stances.

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