Despite tougher immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump, a group of young immigrants in Texas without permanent legal status staged a sit-in in Texas Wednesday, blocking traffic the state they said is the immigrant rights "battleground."
Participants and organizers from the group Cosecha acknowledged that their protest put participants at risk. But they said they were following the model of Dreamers, a group who openly said they were undocumented and were successful in getting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, authorized under former President Barack Obama in 2012.
The protesters formed a circle in the middle of a downtown Austin, Texas street that runs in front of the Capitol, laying down banners.
Video of the event filmed by a protest participant showed that soon after the protest started, an officer dragged the banners from the street to the sidewalk. Drivers honked as protesters sat in the street. Officers on horseback and state troopers were also nearby.
Fifteen people were arrested, including four who have deportation deferrals under DACA, organizers said.
Organizers of the protest said Texas has become the "battleground state in the struggle for immigrant rights" because it leads the country in deportations and recently passed SB4, giving broad power to individual law officers to question people about their citizenship and immigration status. The law takes effect September 1st. They said the protest was not just for so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who arrived or stayed illegally in the country, usually with parents, but was on behalf of all 11 million people without status in the country.
"We took risks and put our bodies on the line to tell the people of this country that we were ‘Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic,’” Maria Fernanda Cabello, a spokeswoman for Movimiento Cosecha, said in a statement before the protest. “This moment calls for us to be brave again; to create a moral crisis that will change the narrative on immigration in this country.”
Catalina Adorno, 27, of Texas, was among those arrested. She told NBC Latino in an interview before the protest that she recognized she was taking a risk by participating in the sit-in. Adorno has a deportation deferral and permission to work through DACA.
"When I made the decision to participate in the action, I remembered how, for DACA, we only won because we took action. For me, its important to remember that now, in this anti-immigrant climate, we can only win by taking action," said Adorno, who is originally from Mexico.
Adorno said she is the only person in her family who qualifies for DACA. She said her parents have been fearful of deportation throughout the Obama administration and now under Trump.
Adorno recently finished graduate school and wants to teach. She said she has grandparents in Mexico, but hadn't come up with a long-term plan for what she would do in Mexico if deported there.
"I know the risk is there, but I want to take the risk because it's not about me, especially under this administration. We have to show we are going to be fighting back, fighting against what this administration wants to put forward against us," she said.