Photo: Fernando Lopez, courtesy of the No Papers No Fear Ride
Party conventions always attract more than just delegates. Although this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) will have its share of fans, onlookers and protesters, one particular group will hold a historic presence when they arrive next month. That’s because the workers, students, mothers and fathers who are participating in a new kind of Freedom Ride are all undocumented immigrants.
UndocuBus is transporting about thirty people across ten states this summer, as it approaches Charlotte, North Carolina, for the DNC. It’s making stops on the way to pick up new riders, and to meet with supporters. Whatever happens at the convention will depend on how federal immigration authorities—as well as the DNC itself—responds to the riders’ presence.
Getting on UndocuBus in Phoenix, Arizona, was no easy task for the riders. The city is home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and members boarded an old single-deck bus that was repurposed and painted bright mint green with the words “No Papers No Fear” in English and Spanish on both sides. The bus will travel through states like Alabama, which has what’s considered the nation’s most draconian SB 1070–style law.
At Voting Rights Watch, we’re engaging community journalists as our eyes and ears on the ground. Early on, we decided the term “citizen journalist” would imply that only people born in the United States or naturalized through a process could weigh in this electoral season. Instead, we want to feature the voices of community journalists who may be undocumented and cannot vote, yet still have a stake in the electoral process.
Meet Eleazar Castellanos. He’s a 45-year-old day laborer who has lived in Tucson, Arizona, for sixteen years with his wife and child. For the bulk of that time, he worked creating custom marble and granite countertops. About four years ago, he found that he was unable to hold a steady job because of Arizona’s use of E-Verify, which checks federal employment eligibility, and essentially bars unauthorized immigrants from obtaining work. About one year ago, he heard about the Southside Worker Center, and began realizing that many other people faced similar circumstances. Although he doesn’t find work every day, he has found a community that reflects and honors his experience. When he heard about the tour, called No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice, he decided to participate. I spoke with him this week.
Why did you to want to board UndocuBus and publicly declare yourself undocumented?
Because I believe that I am not the only one in this situation. There are thousands upon thousands of us in the same circumstance. And not all of us have realized that we are not alone. And when I began going to the day labor center, I opened my eyes. I realized that we have to come out and struggle. I don’t want to stay in the shadows, I want to come out to the light, so people know that I’m here, and the problems that I’ve faced. Just because I’m undocumented doesn’t mean that I’m a criminal—because that’s what they try to make of me in Arizona, they catalog me as a criminal. But how can I be a criminal when I’ve been working and paying my taxes the entire time? So, in order for us to be heard, someone has to come forward. When they explained all the risks about boarding, I told them I wasn’t the one best suited for it. All of us were afraid; I was really afraid. But when we saw so much support, I chose to move forward. I have to speak—and not just for myself but for everyone at once. Someone has to represent Tucson, someone has to represent Southside Worker Center, and ask for an opportunity for my wife, for my daughter, for my brothers and for everyone to move forward. And that’s why I joined.