Julie Oliver talks collaboration on campus, immigration reform

Julie Oliver

I was proud to deliver Voodoo Doughnuts to the University Democrats who’d stayed up all night at the Flawn Academic Center in anticipation of the first day of early voting. We did some handstands to wake our bodies up, but we have organized nonstop throughout this election cycle, so we were all pretty tired. Both my mind and heart were tired, having just arrived in Austin the night before from a trip to the border camps in Matamoros, Mexico. 

The news cycle is so short right now that the media has moved on to other crises, but I want to take this opportunity to redirect our attention to what I witnessed in Matamoros. The Migrant Protection Protocols, as big a lie as anything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth, does anything but protect migrants. The Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy is illegal and immoral, and it keeps our fellow human beings out of sight and reach from the legal protections that are enshrined in our immigration laws — namely the right to asylum. 

In the camps, I met young mothers who had given birth on nylon tarps. As a former teen mother, my heart broke. I couldn’t help but think about what my future would have looked like — not just without the strong community and social services I had access to, but with the weight of an entire foreign power stacked against me. I am determined to carry their stories with me, and will ensure they don’t end at the banks of the Rio Grande. 

I also met their families — people who had been farmers, business owners and contributors to their countries in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and more — before fleeing unspeakable violence to save their families. Half of the camps’ residents are children. Some of them had been there, living outside for nearly 11 months, awaiting a court date. As they wait, cartels pass through the camps at night to traffic, raping and preying upon those who are most vulnerable. Only 0.1% of the asylum petitions have been granted, so many are simply waiting to be deported back to some of the most violent places on the planet. It is immoral, and Congress must end Migrant Protection Protocols immediately. 

However, I also saw hope and ingenuity, symbols that the camp’s residents had taken upon themselves to dignify the existence our country has trapped them in. They planted gardens, strung up solar-powered lighting to make their nights safer and erected wood-burning stoves as makeshift restaurants. They’ve even constructed a temporary school so their children are able to retain some semblance of normalcy. Though my political director had to translate the majority of our conversations for me, I was able to speak with Dianara, a young girl who was learning English from the Angry Tias and Abuelas group to prepare for her bright future in the United States that her parents had put their lives on the line for. 

I see this same hopeful organization on UT’s campus. I see the sit-ins, petitions and demands for a better administrative response to campus sexual misconduct — organized by Tasnim Islam, Lynn Huynh and others, supported by the campus chapter of Deeds Not Words (who’ve also provided amazing campus organizers for our team). I see the fight to divest UT’s endowment from fossil fuels, pressuring administration to make sure there’s a world to graduate into. I see the voting advocates in the Civic Engagement Alliance sprinting around quads and classrooms to register classmates. Y’all are bringing about real change, and the future is in your hands. 

So whether it’s migrant justice, Medicare for All or a Green New Deal, I believe in the power of organizing and movement building. This movement has a variety of labels and factions, but really, we all want and deserve the same things regardless of where we’re from or what privileges we were born into. 

As you consider big choices on your way to the polls, you can read my story about why I think my personal and professional experiences make me the right candidate to lift your voices and support your needs. But this is really your story, so whatever direction you choose, I hope it brings you to the ballot box. We know that Trump has to go, but we also know that this movement towards a more just and sustainable future is much bigger than one man in the White House. As you continue to lead us toward a better, more just and sustainable society, I can’t wait to see what this movement achieves.