Maria Alcivar recently served as a Lang Fellow with AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program in Des Moines. She is currently a full-time student in the Human Development and Family Studies Ph.D. Program at Iowa State.
What did you work on with AFSC?
I mainly worked on the logistics of a project called La Resistencia Iowa. That project originally started from a group of primarily women of color who saw the need to have a hotline to report ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] activity in the area after Donald Trump was elected. The hotline now is housed by AFSC with the help of several key community leaders and volunteers from the Des Moines area. It also influenced several other areas of Iowa to create their own local lines, which I find superb!
Are there stories that might exemplify what’s been going on?
Stories range from “They came to the place where we work, and a couple of my friends were asked for identification, and they were taken.” There were other instances in which callers would describe ICE agents looking for a specific person, saying they had a warrant, but still arresting everyone around that specific person, what we’ve called “collateral arrests.”
We had a case of this family which had been living in Iowa for 15 years, and the father had a DUI from eight to 10 years ago. ICE had a record of that incident, so they were able to track him easily. ICE was surveilling their home. One day, when he went to work, they followed him to work and right before he got out of his car, three ICE cars surrounded him to take him into custody.
He has two young daughters. One is in high school, and the other is a little four-year-old. They are churchgoers, their daughters were baptized here in Iowa. Other than that one DUI eight to 10 years ago, there was nothing else on the gentleman’s record.
So there’s this misconception about what’s really happening out there and what the Trump administration is saying they’re doing. In reality, the folks who are being detained and deported are not criminals as they make it seem.
How do we change the narrative on immigration?
We need to move past this national rhetoric of “good immigrant/bad immigrant.” That’s one of the messages I’ve been trying to tackle as I build coalitions with people.
Everyone knows who Dreamers are, so we have support for the young folks who were brought by their parents. Because of DACA, we’re seeing their excellence, we’re seeing how they’re contributing to local communities—by working and creating jobs, boosting the economy, especially here in Iowa in small towns. Buying property and engaging in higher education even more.
So we’re proud of that, we’re accepting of that. But we’re not concentrating on who brought these awesome people here, right? We’re saying, “Let’s give all the rights and opportunities to the young folks, the Dreamers, the go-getters,” but the original Dreamers were our parents.
There are 11 million of us undocumented immigrants here, and I consider myself one because I was for 14 years. I’m part of that community, even though I now have citizenship. That’s always been my struggle because, even though I got citizenship, there’s still 11 million out there that don’t have it. I know what it is not to have documentation.
My mom was there for a longer time. She just recently got her documentation. And my brother has DACA. My family is a mixed-status family, so it’s a constant thing that I have to keep fighting against. Because there hasn’t been legislation that’s addressed all the complexity of what it is to be an immigrant.
What’s the most important thing for allies to be doing in this moment?
We’re tired of allies asking us to give them more juice for their understanding, juice for their stories, juice for them to contribute. That’s too much, it’s draining to keep asking people to share their stories and share their lives with them. It’s exhausting.
Especially coming from religious leaders, that has been one of my main awakenings. Because I’ve been involved in some conversations around sanctuary and what that means, and who’s deserving of that or not.
I would think that religious and faith leaders would understand more. That would be the place where we would feel more at ease, as opposed to having to try to explain more and more of why this matters and why everyone should be allowed to have sanctuary. That is tiring, especially coming from an institution that’s supposed to be forgiving, welcoming, and literally a sanctuary for everyone.
I always think of intent versus impact. Yes, your intentions may be awesome, your intentions may be good, you may be coming to this work because you know this is not right, you don’t believe that anti-immigrant values are true American values. That might be your intention about why you want to learn about my story or those of other undocumented people.
But then what that does to us is also important. White allies need to understand that these issues have been part of the United States for way too long, and if you don’t get it by now, I’m sorry. I’m not going to keep trying to make you understand or keep trying to enlighten you. It’s exhausting enough that we have to constantly fight, basically, to live in a place where you’re free from persecution.
And on top of that, we have to explain it to you, over and over, constantly, for you to get it? I mean, there’s is a lot of activism and programming around our lived experiences, here in Iowa, too. AFSC in Iowa has this awesome video contest for young folks to participate in. You can get a sense of what our lives are like there. There are tons of national organizations that are providing that information for you through videos, campaigns, social media, and more.
You don’t need to put more weight on our shoulders; you can do your own research. Take some of the responsibility for your own understanding of immigration issues. Because it’s too late now, Trump is in office, and these things are happening to us; they have been happening to us even before Trump.