Every immigrant to the U.S. has a story about the path that brought them here. We are drawn and driven by familiar motivations: opportunities for ourselves and our families; an education; or escape from atrocities, political unrest or retaliation, climate-induced hardships, the devastating impact of U.S. foreign policies.
In our collective imaginations, from our disparate homelands, the U.S. can seem like an ideal place. For me, as a kid in the British Virgin Islands, I imagined all Americans lived the way people did on TV.
Like more than 1 million newcomers each year, I came in pursuit of an education and afterward stayed because the U.S. seemed a better fit for a wide-eyed journalist looking to make a difference in the world.
But in the years since, and through the course of a two-decades-long reporting career, I’ve had a front-row seat to the escalating dangers, horrific discrimination, and bureaucratic hurdles new immigrants face as they try to make a home for themselves here.
That’s why I was excited by the frame we adopted for what was to be our summer issue on migration: “By Immigrants, For Immigrants.” I know first-hand that immigrants, refugees, and migrants have a rich history of working alongside their communities to make a way out of no way in this country.
We aim to complicate the narrative that is all too familiar to most U.S.-born readers.
In that same spirit of perseverance, we bring you this special report. When the YES! editorial team decided to pivot our summer issue theme from migration to community power in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we also knew that the stories we’d assigned for the migration issue—almost all written by immigrants—still needed to be seen, shared, and understood.
Maru Mora Villalpando, our guest editor for this special report, will tell you that immigrants organize “because we know liberation can only come from us.” I first met her in 2014 when I was reporting for the The Seattle Times and she was among those protesting outside the Gates Foundation, urging an end to its investments in one of the nation’s largest private prison operators. That same year, Maru revealed for the first time that she is undocumented.
Today she’s the unrelenting voice behind the growing movement to end detentions and deportations here in the Northwest and across the country—a fight that’s found new, tragic urgency in the midst of COVID-19.
Of course, grassroots organizing cannot singlehandedly create systemic change, which is what’s required to remove so many of the barriers facing immigrants in the U.S. today—be they rooted in policy or prejudice. Yet we also know that immigrant communities are filled with movement leaders and front-line activists, like her, committed to this central ethos: “Nothing about us, without us.”
So the stories you’ll find in this special report focus on the change being led by and for immigrants, refugees, and migrants. We aim to complicate the narrative that is all too familiar to most U.S.-born readers; to challenge preconceived notions about who immigrates, what they do once they arrive, and how they organize to help empower and defend their communities.
YES! Civil Liberties Editor
We don’t want saviors, we want accomplices.
by Maru Mora Villalpando
With strong, rich roots in the U.S., Black people are part of this country’s immigration narrative.
by Kovie Biakolo
New York’s immigrant communities turn to the tools of civic life to protect their rights.
by Oscar Perry Abello
Since well before the Vietnam War, Southeast Asian migrants have faced racism, targeted immigration enforcement, and denial of their basic human rights.
by Xoài Pham
Zimbabweans who had to flee their low-lying farms because of drought are finding an unexpected welcome in the nation’s eastern highlands.
by Andrew Mambondiyani
For some families, seeking better opportunities means leaving behind their loved ones, including children.
by Katherine Uyaguari
Often denied legal recognition and systemic support, immigrant communities have long been finding solutions to the social ills plaguing all communities.
by Priscilla Blossom
While Indigenous leaders work to address issues they face with U.S.-Mexico border policy, Indigenous people must continue to grapple with the everyday impacts of increasing border enforcement.
by Christina Leza
Lornet Turnbull is the civil liberties editor for YES!, a Seattle-based freelance writer, and a regional freelance writer for The Washington Post.