Basilisa Alonso is one of 800,000 Dreamers in the United States, and on Tuesday, after President Trump announced he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), she was arrested for protesting her right to maintain her protected status. The 27-year-old political organizer arrived in the U.S. from Mexico as an undocumented child, was raised in Yonkers, New York, and attended the City University of New York in the Bronx. “This is my home state, this is my space, and I belong in this space,” she said. “I’ve lived in the shadows before, and I’m not going back.”
Although she’s been involved in the immigrants’ rights movement since she was 18, Alonso said joining Tuesday’s protest, where interaction with law enforcement was likely (a risk for any undocumented immigrant, especially with newly empowered ICE agents), was “the first time in my life that I ever took this type of risk.” The day after she was released from jail, Alonso talked to the Cut about how she decided to join Movimiento Cosecha’s action, what was going through her mind as she was arrested, and the toll Trump’s decision will take on the country’s immigrant community.
How did you feel after President Trump’s announcement?
I feel like this administration has been waging psychological warfare on us because from the moment he was elected, there was always that threat. I’d been hearing rumors about an announcement for weeks, and I didn’t realize that the stress was making me physically sick — I was getting headaches, I was feeling nauseous, I was overcome by a sense of dread. I needed to know what was going to happen. Now, at least we know the confines we have to organize within.
I also thought that it was telling that the president couldn’t come out and say himself that he was terminating the program — he let [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] do it for him. It was a cowardly move by a person who can’t stick by his convictions. If you’re going to destroy people’s lives, at least show your face.
You said you’ve never done anything like this before. Why did you decide to go to Trump Tower on Tuesday?
When I heard what Cosecha was planning, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. They held a meeting on Monday, and we were briefed on all the possibilities, so we all had to decide if protesting was a risk we were willing to take. My biggest concern wasn’t what would happen to me, but what would happen to my family — I didn’t want to do something that would implicate my parents or put them under scrutiny in any way. After the meeting, I talked to them about it. My mom was really afraid that, if the arrest went on my record, I wouldn’t qualify for future relief. I told her, ‘Mom, if they take DACA away, it doesn’t matter if I have a record — it’s gone.’
They still didn’t want me to do it, but knowing that I was able to put their concerns at ease really gave me that extra push.
What was the scene like at Trump Tower when you arrived?
We went over not really knowing what to expect — not knowing how many people were going to be there, how many police officers would be there, not even knowing if we’d be able to get close to Trump Tower. But when I got there and saw all these people in my community, it really reinforced what we were doing. I was still afraid, but looking at everyone around me — the people who were willing to take this risk with me — that grounded me. I kept thinking about something someone said at the meeting: that it’s okay to be afraid, but the important thing is what you do in spite of that fear. I kept telling myself, ‘It’s okay that you’re afraid. But are you going to stand up for what you believe in, or are you going to go back into the shadows?’ And I’m not going to go back into the shadows.
Once we got to the site, we sat down, linked hands, and started chanting. One of the chants we used was the Cosecha song — the English portion of it goes like this: ‘Listen my people, my condor, my eagle, no human being can ever be illegal.’ My [Our Revolution] co-worker, Erika [Andiola], was on my right, and a Cosecha member named Juan Carlos was on my left. At one point I saw Erika crying, and I was so overwhelmed that I started crying too. There was a lot of chaos around us, but the chanting allowed me to block it out.
And then you were arrested?
Yes. The police were behind us. I remember feeling Erika being lifted up, so I let go of her arm, and I knew I was going to be next. An officer put plastic restraints on me and told me to get up. He was courteous about it — he wasn’t rough.
I was maybe the fourth person put into the police van. We kept singing the Cosecha song as we were being put into the van, and as we were driven away.
What was the atmosphere like in the van?
There was a lot of excitement about what we had done. People like us, we’re constantly told that this country isn’t ours, this space isn’t ours, and we reclaimed that space. So it was very empowering. A lot of us were trying to piece together what Sessions had said earlier that day — trying to figure out what it meant. Personally, I was just happy that I wasn’t going through that process alone.
Were you ever afraid the arrest might lead to your deportation?
I was worried that might happen. Even though we’re in New York City, that possibility is always in the back of our heads — that ICE might be alerted. A reporter [at the protest] asked me about that, and I told him that Mayor De Blasio had said he’d be protective of immigrants and that he’d positioned New York to be the leader in that fight. And I said I hoped he kept his promise.
What are you most worried about, now that DACA has effectively been rescinded?
While I was still being held in the precinct, I was thinking back to when I was in high school and how isolated I felt. If you had asked me back then how many undocumented students were in Yonkers, I would’ve said ‘none.’ I felt alone — like I was the only one. I thought about how I handled that depression and anxiety, and how today’s young people will have to handle it when their DACA expires. It really takes a toll on your mental health.
After I got out, that’s when it hit me that DACA had been terminated, and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to renew mine. Questions started running through my mind: Am I still going to be able to work? If not, does that mean that I have to go back to cleaning houses and waiting tables? If so, will that mean that I’m not going to be able to contribute financially to my parents’ bills? The government has my information — once my DACA expires, will they use it to come after me?
What do you plan to do going forward?
We need to keep hitting the streets. We have to force people to do something about this. We always knew that DACA was a temporary fix, and that it could be revoked at any time. And really, the DREAM Act is only going to protect a small percentage of the population. So the solution isn’t something like DACA — it’s something more comprehensive that’s protective not only of us, the sympathetic college students, but also of our parents and our families and the day laborers and the restaurant workers and the construction workers. That’s what we’re going to be fighting for.