Meet The Queer, Undocumented Latina Leading the Immigrant Justice Movement

Supermajority Education Fund

August 24, 2020

“Undocumented and unafraid, queer and unashamed.” 

That is how Greisa Martínez Rosas describes herself. Originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, Martínez Rosas was raised in Dallas, Texas as an undocumented immigrant in a working-class family. This past week, she was named the new Executive Director of United We Dream, a D.C.-based national immigrant advocacy organization and the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country. 

Martínez Rosas’ family came to the United States when she was 8 years old. From a young age, she was aware of her undocumented status and was constantly terrified of what could happen to her family. Martínez Rosas focused on school because she wanted to “go to college, become a doctor, and figure out what I could do to give back to my family.”

Everything changed when Martínez Rosas was a senior in high school and heard that Congress had passed the Sensenbrenner Bill. The bill aimed to criminalize undocumented people by making crossing the border a felony and eliminating due process protections. Through MySpace, Martínez Rosas learned that high school students in California and Nevada were leading walkouts to protest the bill, which inspired her to do the same in Texas. “I remember feeling this rush of energy. All these people felt like they had to do something just like I did. At the moment, I was hooked on what we could do together,” she told Supermajority News

After the success of her high school walkout, Martínez Rosas started registering people to vote, even though she was not eligible to vote herself. That experience, she says, made her feel “able to taste what it was like to organize connected to a political strategy that empowers young people beyond a walkout.”

Since then, Martínez Rosas has dedicated her life to organizing for immigrant justice. She attended Texas A&M University, a predominantly white and historically conservative institution, where she founded the first undocumented group on campus as a first-year student. In response,  a student threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She also witnessed a fellow student organizer being attacked by other students who forcibly put his head into a black plastic bag, turned him around, and yelled, “Go back to Mexico, you wetb***!” These experiences taught Martínez Rosas the serious implications of her work. “I learned that there’s real danger in organizing, real physical, emotional, psychological danger and threats in doing this work,” she told Supermajority News

She confronted these dangers first hand when her father was racially profiled, detained, and deported. “That was a moment of choice for me. Do I want to keep doing this? Is it safe for me and for my family?” Ultimately, Martínez Rosas chose to continue engaging in activism “because I knew that this was the place for me.”

For over 10 years, Martínez Rosas has worked in both policy and advocacy. She has helped shut down detention facilities, stop deportations, and participated in multiple actions that led to the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) during the Obama administration. Many of those efforts were undertaken on behalf of United We Dream, where Martínez Rosas has worked since 2012. Now, as the Executive Director of the organization, Martínez Rosas recognizes the evolving context of their work amid a global pandemic and a national outcry for racial justice. 

“Undocumented people were not prioritized by either political party when it came to addressing the impact of COVID-19,” Martínez Rosas says, noting specifically that any person who is connected to an undocumented person, even if they are citizens, did not get a relief package from the Trump administration. “It’s not a coincidence, it’s not an afterthought, it’s not that they missed a page. There was a strategic decision to punish people who are part of mixed-status families,” Martínez Rosas stated. Currently, United We Dream is mobilizing people to demand their senators to include undocumented people in any future relief packages. 

Ultimately, Martínez Rosas believes that citizenship is only one part of the fight for justice for immigrant communities given that there are systems in place that prevent Black and brown people from accessing basic needs such as health care and education, whether they have a social security number or not. “The same system that puts people into immigration detention is the same system that has for generations separated Black and Brown families through incarceration. Our vision and our fight must be interconnected in order for us to be able to address it,” she told Supermajority News.  

But, Martínez Rosas adds, “policy is one part of the change that we seek to see in this world. It’s not just about a bill, it’s not just about the stroke of a pen. There is another part of self-love and affirmation for people that has been at the core of what we do here at United We Dream.” 

When asked about the future, Martínez Rosas says, “I see a global movement. I see a youth-powered political movement taking responsibility for the future.” That vision is becoming a reality as more and more young people organize around the issue of immigration. As the new Executive Director of United We Dream, Martínez Rosas is ready to show them the way. She is undocumented, unafraid, and just getting started.