We Asked Protesters Why They Are Most Thankful For Immigrants. Their Answers Spoke Volumes.

"The history of this country is built on the backs of immigrants... it's important for us to fight back for them, as well as to thank them."

Tuesday, August 15, marked the five-year anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), through which undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and "meet several guidelines" may request consideration of deferred removal action for a period of two years (subject to renewal) and also become eligible for work authorization. While DACA does not provide lawful status to undocumented immigrants, the legislation is notable for allowing young people to apply to colleges and enter into the workforce, which in turn equips them with the resources so they can later apply for citizenship. 

In Midtown Manhattan, the landmark day was noted with a rally defending the legislation, currently threatened by a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Paxton. In June, the attorneys general from nine other Republican-led states threatened to sue the Trump administration over the program. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, these states pressed the federal government to phase out DACA by ceasing new enrollment and renewing already existing applications. If the Trump administration makes this decision, more than 800,000 "Dreamers" would suddenly become subject to deportation.

Hundreds of people gathered on 5th Avenue between 54th and 53th Street, carrying pro-immigration signs, chanting "Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here," and listening to the stories of undocumented young people — many publicly coming out as undocumented for the first time – whose lives were forever improved through DACA. 

While the streets overflowed with city dwellers from all walks of life, they had all showed up to the same spot with the same purpose: to thank America's immigrants for the contributions they make to this country every day — and to do whatever they can to ensure they stay here.

"All together, we make a bigger impact to society... we're all made of immigrants," Paola Lopez, a student about to start college, told A Plus. "My parents are immigrants. They've been here, I'm here — to make progress in the United States. Everybody comes here to progress..." Without immigrants, she added, certain industries, like agriculture and construction, would not exist in their current states. So, she said, "I came here to fight because we don't want them to take immigrants away."

Paola Lopez at the Defend DACA rally. Lindsay Geller / A Plus.
Paola Lopez at the Defend DACA rally. Lindsay Geller / A Plus.

"I am an immigrant. America is made and created by immigrants. Our forefathers were immigrants. They were not Native American, so we need to really dig deep and look at our roots," Karen, a woman who declined to share her last name, told A Plus. "We are all immigrants so why are we pushing immigrants away? Without immigrants, this country would not have been what it is today." 

When asked about immigrants' contributions that benefitted their fellow citizens every day, she said people needn't look any further than their iPhones. "I'm talking about Steve Jobs, he was an immigrant," she explained. (In the 1950s, Jobs' biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali, immigrated from Syria to study in the US, where he met his partner, Joanne Carole Schieble. Because they had Jobs out of wedlock, the couple was forced to give him up for adoption.) "The Transcontinental Railroad was built by immigrants, even though it was not acknowledged," Karen continued. "...We are the last people to receive equal pay and good working conditions so why are they so against immigrants? Without the immigrants doing the jobs that no one else wants, I think the living standard will be slightly different." 

Alex Ferreira, a biologist and organizer with the International Socialist Organization (one of the rally's endorsers), told A Plus, "My family is a family of immigrants, but more than that, I think immigrants are absolutely essential to the way this country operates. I mean, the history of this country is built on the backs of immigrants and the backs of slaves... I think it's important for us to fight back for them, as well as to thank them." 

Alex Ferreira at the Defend DACA rally. Lindsay Geller / A Plus.
Alex Ferreira at the Defend DACA rally. Lindsay Geller / A Plus.

Not only did Ferreira believe everyone should be grateful for the countless contributions immigrants have made, but he added, "We should not separate immigrants out into good immigrants versus bad immigrants. We should fight for the fact that movement across borders should be a human right, and really there should be no borders." 

"I think it's important to build solidarity between non-immigrants, between white people, between different kinds of immigrants," he further explained, touching on how the high stakes of Tuesday's Defend DACA rally were inherently tied to those that brought about Saturday's tragic events in Charlottesville. He later added, "It's important to build solidarity between different identity groups around the realization that we have a material interest to fight against xenophobia and oppression because when the government or when companies start to treat immigrants badly, it gives them free license to treat everybody badly." 

Phyllis Murray, a retired educator and nurse, told A Plus she was thankful for immigrants because, well, her "family's filled with them," though she is also a quarter Native American through her maternal grandmother. "There are many immigrants in my family so I feel that it's very important to have a diverse, wonderful city here, and you can see that this diversity has really helped us create a very rich society," she said. "I feel like I've been exposed to many different cultures, and I have the benefit of seeing there are many different ways to do things... It's different cuisines and different points of view, and it's just enriched my life to be around all these people." 

Phyllis Murray. Lindsay Geller / A Plus.
Phyllis Murray. Lindsay Geller / A Plus.

AJ Yusuf, an employee at the mayor's office — though he made clear he was speaking as a private citizen, not a government representative — nevertheless vocalized strong support for undocumented immigrants. "I'm thankful because a lot of the things you see in your day-to-day life like YouTube, Google — these are things that are so pervasive in our community and our day-to-day lives we don't even think about it... These things are created by immigrants," he told A Plus. "Over $475 billion would be lost over 10 years if you take away DACA, and it's not like only DACA recipients contribute. All 11 million undocumented people contribute. They pretty much uphold our agricultural industry; they uphold our restaurant and service industry, and our construction industry... If you're walking into a building, undocumented laborers built that building, including the Trump Tower itself."

Yusuf added that the dehumanization of immigrants coupled with the "good immigrants versus bad immigrants" narrative is not only completely false, but harmful to every American – regardless of their citizenship status. "Every day, we work to make sure that our communities have the resources they need, and we make sure all the chances and all the opportunities that everyone else does," he explained. "These are things that immigrants, that DACA recipients are doing every day... We are making sure that all these important industries stay afloat and yet you're telling us that we don't belong, that doesn't add up." 

Besides these three core industries, Yusuf noted immigrants' integral part in upholding the American technology industry. "If you look at Silicon Valley, a huge percentage of them are South Asian immigrants. So in our daily lives, if you use the internet at all, you owe immigrants your thanks," he said. Overall, he concluded that the contributions of immigrants are "so pervasive and ubiquitous that to name one thing, it does a disservice." 

Caitlin Cahill, a professor, and Raymond Cabrol Jr., a software engineer, came to the rally together, armed with sparkly signs. "So many of us who came to the country came from somewhere else, so that represents who we are," Cahill told A Plus. "The undocumented community members who are here in this country, they've been exploited and harassed and kept in the shadows for years and years and years, and so now, we need to embrace and support and uplift their contributions to our society." 

Cabrol agreed and added, "To me, they [immigrants] bring a different cultural perspective to America, and as far as I'm concerned, culture belongs to all of us and there's no such thing as 'This my culture,and you cannot participate in it.' No, it's like a repository for humanity."

Caitlin Cahill, and Raymond Cabrol Jr., Lindsay Geller / A Plus.
Caitlin Cahill, and Raymond Cabrol Jr., Lindsay Geller / A Plus.

"We can be part of their culture and experience that they bring to us," Cabrol continued. "And that contribution — it just so enriches our lives in every possible way that you can imagine." He believed the dreams, hopes, and work ethic of immigrants are nothing less than human wants and needs with which we can all identify. 

"We only have to look just around — everything that we eat, that we wear, that's built has been made and produced by the labor of immigrants," Cahill said of the countless contributions those hopes and dreams have since become. "It's, like, everything, right?" 

While the Defend DACA rally was only the latest in a series of protests since President Trump was inaugurated, the civil rights goals of each have noticeably overlapped. "Overall, whether it's a women's march or an immigrants march or Black Lives Matter, I think all these groups should come out and support each other," Cabrol concluded. 

"We've gotta come all together," Cahill echoed. "And not even think about immigrants as us and them. We're all in this together."

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