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Young organizer builds community to protect New Jersey immigrants from deportation

What Difference Does a Year Make?

As the daughter of a community ad­vocate, Vera Parra developed her social consciousness at a young age, but it wasn’t until she joined New Jer­sey’s community of immigrant-rights ad­vocates that she felt the power and strength to keep working for change.

While accompanying a man—father to three U.S.-citizen children—to his check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforce­ment (ICE), Vera witnessed ICE detain him on the spot and deport him the next day. “It was before I really had a national network that could push back,” she says. “I felt such loneliness in that moment—powerlessness, feeling like I was throwing my whole body up against this crazy system that destroys families and is driven by profits.”

Vera interned with AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program in Newark and then spent a year as an organizing fellow there, gath­ering stories about local police involve­ment with federal immigration enforce­ment while building a grassroots coalition to work for change. During that time, she says, she realized that “the power to coun­teract that [sense of powerlessness] comes from the relationships that we have with…those of us who are committed to working together, fighting together, loving together, taking care of one another.”

In late 2013, Vera took an organizing job with a national faith-based network through which she is continuing her work with the immigrant community in New Jersey. She took with her AFSC’s vision for a just world, based on Quaker principles.

“There aren’t a lot of organizations that think outside of the current debate. The current [immigration] bill is not going to stop detention and deportation. AFSC pro­foundly refuses to accept the terms of the [immigration policy reform] debate, and pushes for a vision that is worth fighting for,” she says.

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