Cristina Jiménez Has A Vision For A More Inclusive U.S.

Immigration could be the central issue of the 2020 election.

Read about all of A Plus' 2018 Game Changers of the Year here.

Cristina Jiménez is changing the way Americans think about immigration.

The co-founder of United We Dream — the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the United States — Jiménez has been on the front lines of the battle for immigrant rights since she came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant when she was just 13. This year, Jiménez earned her recognition as an A Plus Game Changer for the growth, impact, and continued success of her organization in the face of a government that is increasingly hostile toward undocumented immigrants. 

"What we are able to see in the last month and the last year-plus is that the majority of our country actually stands with us against the policy of mass deportation," Jiménez told A Plus shortly after a family separation policy on the border drew widespread outcry. "They stand in support of an inclusive society and treats immigrants with dignity."

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Cristina Jiménez, co-founder of United We Dream
John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation

UWD now has more than 400,000 members across the country, and Jiménez says that they are deployed as allies for the immigrant community — both documented and undocumented — in an effort to change both public policy and public perception. Jiménez came to the United States from Guatemala when she was 13. She grew up in Queens, New York, where she still lives today. 

As a young adult, Jiménez found power in her voice, speaking out about her own experiences, why she came to the United States illegally, and the injustices that immigrants face across the country. One of the signature moments of her career as an activist was when, in 2012, former President Barack Obama instituted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allowed some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for protection from deportation. Jiménez was crucial in organizing the national campaign that put pressure on President Obama and Congress to act. 

"I remember that moment when I literally broke into tears when I got the call," Jiménez said. "I just remember breaking into tears and having flashbacks to all the years before of those who were undocumented, many of them sharing their stories of being undocumented, that put pressure on members of Congress. That led sit-ins and marches and [fasting], and ... all kinds of tactics to put pressure on the deportations." 

At the time, Jiménez recalls, Obama was deporting more immigrants than any president before him. He was scrutinized less by the press for his attitude towards immigrants, and Jiménez insisted that many of the practices that have come to light under President Donald Trump existed when Obama was in office. Still, though, she says she wouldn't compare then to now. 

"I don't want to say something that wouldn't be true, which is that the conditions were the same under Obama as Trump," Jiménez said. "They're not. Certainly, this administration and the candidate ran on a platform of calling immigrants rapists and criminals and animals, and building an entire platform and an agenda to lead mass deportation — it's no comparison."

And yet, in the face of an administration it views as hostile toward immigrants, United We Dream has persisted under Jiménez's leadership. She describes a vision for the country that she has, that she believes many Americans have: "Multiracial, inclusive for all people including immigrants, African Americans, and women to live with full dignity." 

Their plan for the future is to continue to grow as an organization while teaching immigrant youth about their rights, their history, and how to be leaders. Her hope is that as the question of immigrant rights continues to evolve, United We Dream will lead the way in shaping the national conversation. 

"The people power building, it's not going to stop," Jiménez said. "What we are hoping to do is have a generation of leaders that we have been training for the last decade. We're really clear that we are nurturing and developing a generation of young people who are changing the power dynamic and transforming their community locally, from their schools to their city councils to nationally."

Cover image via  lev radin / Shutterstock.com>

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