Social Justice

Change Makers: Rafael Lopez on Fighting for Immigrant Rights and Preparing for Life After DACA

Rafael Lopez always knew he was different. What he didn’t know growing up was how this difference in immigration status would change his life.

This week, Lopez is coming to terms with how his life may change yet again. What does Donald Trump’s decision on DACA mean for Lopez, and for some 13,000 other Nevadans? Lopez breaks down how we got here, and what immigrant communities must do next to fight Trump’s agenda.

Rafael Lopez’s rude awakening

Though Lopez knew about his status as a child, one court order would inform him of the severity of his family’s situation. “I got an order of deportation when I was 16 years old. […] ICE got a warrant for our family.”

Like many other immigrant families, the Lopezes sought assistance from a notario who turned out to be a con artist. With his family conned out of money and running out of time, Rafael decided he needed to take action. “I had nothing to lose. At some point, ICE would look for me.”

From DREAM to DACA-mented

In college, Lopez reconnected with a long-time friend. “I knew Blanca Gamez since high school. She already knew about my status.” Gamez then introduced Lopez to Astrid Silva. The three of them then began building not just a support network for fellow DREAMers, but also a vehicle for sustained activism.

The next two years would be full of victories and setbacks for Lopez and friends. They worked with U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D) to build support for the DREAM Act, only to see it filibustered in December 2010. Lopez didn’t give up… And that decision to keep going paid off in June 2012, when then President Barack Obama announced DACA to provide deportation relief for DREAMers like Lopez, Gamez, and Silva.

For Lopez, DACA felt like a breakthrough. “It was a huge victory. I felt it. It felt like we built power.” This encouraged him to keep organizing, and reach for even higher goals. “We need to push for more. We need to push for immigration reform.”

“You can feel when we’re about to go backwards. You can feel it from the public.”
– Rafael Lopez

For a while, Lopez and other immigrant activists continued to feel the wind at their backs. This culminated with the Senate’s passage of comprehensive immigration reform in June 2013. This positive momentum didn’t last long, as House Republican leaders refused to allow a floor vote on the bipartisan Senate bill.

Lopez could sense more trouble ahead. “You can feel when we’re about to go backwards. […] As we were fighting for the DREAM Act, there was a hostile attitude. It feels like 2010 again with the anti-immigrant sentiment.”

Donald Trump capitalized on that anti-immigrant sentiment last year, and is now turning that sentiment into policy as President. Trump has already encouraged ICE to conduct more deportation raids, and he’s threatened to force a government shutdown if he doesn’t get funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. He’s now threatening the future of DREAMers like Lopez as he considers ending the DACA program that prevents the deportation of Lopez and some 13,000 other young Nevadans.

“Let’s figure out how to survive, and how to move forward. If we give up, it’s over.”
– Rafael Lopez

DACA may come to an end as soon as tomorrow. Lopez is trying his best to come to terms with that. “Over the past week, I’ve just learned to accept it. I think the Trump Administration will take it away. I’m preparing emotionally, and I’m trying to figure out the next steps of my life.”
Lopez has lived in Nevada for most of his life. He’s not ready to give up his home or the fight for immigrant rights. “I’m trying to figure out how to stay in the movement. If it ends, let’s go back to the days when we didn’t have DACA,” Lopez said. “Let’s figure out how to survive, and how to move forward. If we give up, it’s over.”

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