Greisa Martinez Rosas describes herself as “undocumented, unafraid, queer and unashamed.”
The activist and beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program arrived in the U.S. from Mexico with her family when she was 8 years old. She vividly remembers holding hands with her familia as they crossed the Rio Grande.
“I still feel the cold water on my skin sometimes,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We held hands tight, and we made it to the other side.”
Martinez Rosas grew up in Dallas with her mom, dad and three younger sisters. “We held hands tight [that day] because we knew that we only had each other.”
From a young age, she was aware of her “undocumented” status and was constantly terrified of what could happen to her loved ones. Then the unthinkable happened. Her father, Luis Martinez, was racially profiled by police officers, pulled over, detained because he didn’t have a driver’s license and deported back to Mexico.
“It’s been 13 years since I’ve seen him,” she says. “And sometimes I catch myself talking about him in the past tense … in a lot of ways, social deportation is social death.”
In 2018, she was hit with another devastating loss when her mother, Elia Martinez, died after a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Because she was undocumented, the access to medical care to fight this awful disease of cancer were limited to her,” Martinez Rosas explains.
She never lost hope of her dreams. In 2012, she joined United We Dream, a Washington, D.C.-based national immigrant advocacy organization and the largest immigrant youth-led group in the country. A true activist, having previously led a high school walkout for immigrant justice, Martinez Rosas participated in multiple actions that led to the creation of DACA.
The Obama-era program, which was established in 2012, protects young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation. It also makes them eligible to apply for a work permit.
“I’m really lucky that I get to have a work permit to serve the movement and to be part of this work,” Martinez Rosas says.
President Trump attempted to end DACA in 2017. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Trump and decided to uphold the program. In August, the Trump administration challenged the decision by announcing it would limit renewals to one year instead of two, and would not accept new applicants.
DACA recipients are challenging the president’s latest attempt to end the program with the hashtag #DefendDACA.
In August, Martinez Rosas was named executive director of United We Dream, a space for young people — regardless of immigration status — to support, engage and empower one another. The organization is made up of more than 400,000 members across five states, with an online reach of more than 4 million.
“We are powered by young undocumented people,” she explains. “We are here to stay. And we are here to bring about a history that will truly astonish the world.”
She fights to defend DACA not only because it’s necessary, but also to honor her parents. “I do this work on their behalf because they gave up everything so that I could have a chance to have it all,” she says. “And they made me believe in the American dream.”
When asked about the future, Martinez Rosas says: “I am hopeful that things will get better. And I see hope in my own ability to be able to look beyond the politics and know that though the current president is spewing hate and lies about our community, that we are resilient, and that we have made it through worse and we will make it through this moment right now.”
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