Katia Escobar is in her first year at the University of Houston studying pre-med. Earlier this year she applied for DACA for the first time. But because of a ruling in Texas, her application was cancelled. Katia joined several other undocumented activists in Washington with the organization United We Dream to demand immigration reform. This conversation has been edited for length and brevity.
Katia, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
To start off, I came to [the U.S.] when I was a baby from Mexico. A majority of my family are undocumented. I have two younger siblings who are citizens. My family works in the poultry industry. They are essential workers. I tried to apply [for DACA] this year. This was my first time applying for DACA, but because I was an initial applicant the Hanen ruling canceled the proceedings of my application. Thankfully my family didn’t feel the financial toll of the application getting canceled because I had gotten help from United We Dream with the DACA fund.
That must have been tough.
I know emotionally when I first heard that they had once again closed the applications for initial applicants, that sparked in me more fight. I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch my life and my future be in the hands of politicians who are not listening to our demands and are not listening to our needs.
And so you went to Washington?
My state organizer reached out to me about a rapid responsibility station that they were going to do actions in Washington, D.C. I joined because even though I know I’m undocumented, and that trip was a risk, I knew that if I did not do whatever I could in my power to remind Democrats that they have the power to grant us citizenship, I would be living the rest of my life at risk. I could no longer sit on the side and watch this all unfold without partaking in something to create change for people like me who also have similar stories as their families are also essential workers.
What has it been like in Washington? There has been so much frustration as the Senate is at an impasse after the ruling from the parliamentarian.
When I first arrived to Washington, I felt like home cause of the sense of community of people who have similar backgrounds to mine, all coming together to fight for the same thing. It felt very empowering and to be in front of the face of multiple Congresspeople and Senators. To have them hear us and hear our demands clearly. For once in my life I felt heard, and I knew that they saw me, and they saw our group, and they saw our banners. They read the demands. You know, the reasons that they got those positions of power that they hold now was because of the help of a lot of our communities who were advocating for them, doing phone banking, canvassing to help them get elected because of these promises that they made.
Anything in particular you remember?
I was granted multiple opportunities to be a speaker. The one I remember most vividly was when we went to Nancy Pelosi’s fundraiser alongside The People’s Watch, which was a climate change organization. That’s what they were advocating for. We joined hands with them to go to this fundraiser and we were chanting and doing an action right outside of the building. Later we were informed that they could hear us very clearly from where they were. When I had spoken up, we did this thing called mic check. I would proceed to tell my story, and everybody would say [it again] and it would reverberate. Hearing my story be so powerful and so loud and thunderous, was very moving. Because I knew that my story was being heard, not only by people who are like me, but someone who can change it for the better who has the power to change things for people like me.
How does it make you feel to know that there are certain senators who are not doing everything in their power to make sure immigration reform is passed, including something like eliminating the filibuster?
I’m not sure how to answer that question because I don’t know their thoughts. But one thing I know is, one way or another, they’re going to have to deliver to us because just like we have given them the power of the positions that they hold now, we can easily take them away. Because we continue to advocate for them, it’s time that they advocate for us and return.
Could you talk a little bit about your parents? I know that they are essential workers and that these last 18 months have been unbelievably challenging. Also, are there any misconceptions about undocumented workers that you would like people to know about?
My parents work in the poultry industry, and they work on a farm. Most people when they hear that they don’t really understand the working conditions that they’re in and how hard that work is. My parents work day and night, they have to live on the farm and they have many restrictions on when they can leave because their sole job is to supervise these chickens. Checking alarms, making sure that nothing malfunctions, fixing everything. The labor is extremely heavy and it’s continuous. They have no days off. And the pay is not what you would think. They get paid less than $8 an hour. And for all that work that they do. The pandemic really shed a light onto how essential they are and how essential immigrants are to this country. Because while everybody else went home for lockdown during the pandemic, a lot of undocumented workers continued to show up for work.
Truly essential workers.
Obviously a farm is not the most sanitary place of all places. I think it spoke volumes about how much people forget how important they are and how big of a role they play. Because I know it’s not just from my parents, but other people. They stay working while everybody else goes home, and we have to work extra hours or extra jobs. I think a lot of industries take advantage of that. I think it’s not fair because people like my parents continue to deliver for this country and for America. The government does very little to repay them back and help them reap the benefits of their heavy labor. A large majority of our essential workers, are undocumented. They’re so at risk of getting COVID because they keep working and have to keep being in certain environments, you know. If they get sick, they don’t have health insurance to cover those costs, um, like, you know, um, medical assistance. One argument that I bring up a lot with my people when they go, ‘oh, but you didn’t come here legally’ or something like that is we’re not deemed illegal or undocumented when it comes to paying taxes. We have some kind of documentation, but we can’t reap the benefits of those taxes because we are not citizens. So it’s the double standard.
Could you talk a little more about that?
There’s a moral urgency to deliver to undocumented immigrants because we are tired of having to fight for basic necessities, resources, and opportunities. Because a lot of undocumented immigrants have great minds. And a lot of them, if given the resources, they could excel. Like for myself, I want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon in the future, but that may not be impossible if I can’t get a license due to my undocumented status. I think people forget to realize that at the end of the day, we’re just people. We’re just humans. And a document shouldn’t define how our quality of life will be in the future.
Anything else you would like to add?
I just want it to be made clear that we’ve granted President Biden and Democrats the power they hold now because they promised to include a pathway to citizenship. That would open doors to a lot of people to live a better quality of life. I think morally they should be moved to pass this at an urgency because their country will no longer run how they want it to run without our workers. They love to profit from us, but they forget to acknowledge that we are people at the end of the day and we should be able to live as such.