How can a human being be illegal? For almost nine years, I have lived in a country that considers me a criminal based on an action I did not take, a choice I did not make. I live in “the land of free and the home of the brave.” And even though I am brave, I am not free. I am chained to the constant reminder that I have no guarantees regarding my legal status, and as a result, my future. So when I was accepted into Pomona College, an institution that prides itself in supporting undocumented students and helping them achieve success, I thought that finally, I would no longer have to live in the shadows.
Once at Pomona, I was lucky to find a wonderful community and network of friends and undocumented students who made me feel welcomed, supported, and more than anything, not alone in my undocumentedness. However, it didn’t take long for us to realize that our struggles as undocumented students did not end with our acceptance letters. These struggles would continue as we continually fight to find our place in an institution that is by default elitist, founded on the historical exploitation of our ancestors and built on stolen Native American grounds.
But even then, for many of us, Claremont is, or rather was, still a place where we could be open about our reality without constant fear of deportation and social exclusion. This was until a couple weeks ago, when for the first time since my arrival to Claremont, the bubble burst.
On Feb. 18, outside of Garrison Theater at Scripps College, a group by the name of Citizens United to RISE congregated to protest Representative Nancy Pelosi's (D-Ca.) pro-immigration stance. Pelosi, the current House Democratic leader, was a guest speaker for the series “Scripps Presents.”
The protesters are part of a newly created coalition that includes Claremont residents. They held signs sporting the faces of individuals who had lost their lives to crimes allegedly executed by undocumented immigrants. Other signs read: “Honoring the THOUSANDS of U.S. Citizens Killed by Illegal Aliens” and “Close Sanctuary Cities,” referring to cities like San Francisco that do not aid federal immigration agencies in the persecution of undocumented immigrants based on their legal status.
In order to counteract the influence of these events, various students from across the Claremont Colleges—many of whom were also undocumented—gathered to challenge Citizens United to RISE. In return, we were told to “go back to Mexico” and that our homelands only produced terrorists, rapists, and killers. We were confronted with hatred, bigotry, and racism. Some of the protesters demanded all illegals be deported and that we “come to this country the legal way.” Their claims and comments not only erased complexity within the Latinx community, but also silenced non-Mexican and non-Latinx narratives within the undocumented community.
While I am not justifying the violence these people so vehemently protested, I do want to denounce the toxic narrative they promote: that there is an association between lack of documentation and crime. Although it is true that the select homicides Citizens United to RISE were protesting were executed by individuals who live in the United States illegally, the protesters' one-sided argument fails to address and ignores the prevalence of violence against immigrant communities. It ignores the fact that immigrant communities are disproportionate targets of structural violence, which includes but is not limited to the underfunding of education, over-policing of youth, and police brutality.
Furthermore, this narrative undermines and erases historical violence against people of color and the fact that most undocumented immigrants in the United States originate from countries that the United States and other European countries have exploited in every possible aspect—economically, politically, and culturally.
Yes, the lost lives of your citizens matter, and we feel your grief, for it has been our own since the beginning of Spanish colonization of the Americas and the spread of European imperialism throughout the world.
As you protest lost lives and demand the deportation of all “illegals” in your Trump-esque ways, I ask: what will you do about the millions of brown and black women, children, and men white Europeans continue to exploit in our homelands across the globe? What about the lives of our ancestors that were lost to colonialism and imperialism? What about the resources that were stolen from us? What about the lives that continue to be lost to your bullshit capitalism, white supremacy, and global structural violence? What about our lives?
Some days have passed since Citizens United to RISE burst the Claremont bubble, but we, undocumented students and our allies, continue to look back at the events and can’t help to see a reality we had failed to see before—a reality of bigotry and xenophobia that is implicit in Claremont social spheres and academia but had never manifested so clearly.
So for those of you who constantly question undocumented students and students of color's experiences, sense of safety and belonging, and demands for more inclusive spaces, this is why.
This is why we are not, do not, and will never feel safe.
Maria Vides PO '18 is majoring in Public Health; she was born in El Salvador and currently lives in La Puente, CA.