Q&A with undocumented immigrant rights activist Sara Mora

(Courtesy of Sara Mora)

(Courtesy of Sara Mora)

The 22-year-old uses digital activism to call attention to the challenges faced by the undocumented community.

As an undocumented immigrant living in the U.S., many aspects of 22-year-old Sara Mora’s life are out of her control. She cannot vote, apply for student financial aid or travel outside the country. She doesn’t know if she’ll be forced to leave the place she calls home. But the one thing she is in control of is her voice — and she’s using it to fight for her community.

Born in Costa Rica, Sara immigrated to the U.S. illegally with her parents when she was 3 years old. She grew up in New Jersey and at 16, she joined the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.

Passed in 2012, DACA offers a two-year renewable legal status to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children. Recipients receive a social security number and are eligible to get a driver's license, job and start on a path to potential citizenship.

But in September 2017, the Trump administration ordered an end to the DACA programme — meaning almost 800,000 people like Sara are at risk of being deported when their protections expire. The administration requested that the Supreme Court review the programme.

Sara uses social media to call attention to the challenges faced by the undocumented community. She shares her story, provides news updates about immigration and highlights other activists and nonprofit organisations. She encourages people to vote and discusses what she has learned from her conversations with leaders about immigration policy and reform.

Sara’s posts are political and personal — often emphasising the urgency of the issue in all caps. “Activism isn’t sexy, it’s not trendy. It doesn’t get more raw than speaking from personal experience...about a cause that’s hurting your family and community,” Sara said in an Instagram post about how using digital activism to look cool isn’t right — especially when families like hers confront fear of deportation and uncertainty every day.

She wants more people to take tangible actions and stand with marginalised communities. As co-president of Women’s March Youth Empower, Sara encourages young people to participate in offline activism by teaching them how to organise, vote and run for office.

I spoke with Sara about her experience with DACA, online activism and her hopes for the future.

Sara leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the inauguration of Governor Phil Murphy. (Courtesy of Sara Mora)

Sara leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the inauguration of Governor Phil Murphy. (Courtesy of Sara Mora)

McKinley Tretler (MT): Tell me more about yourself, your family and experience growing up undocumented.

Sara Mora (SM): My name is Sara Mora. I am 22 years old and a DACA recipient, undocumented immigrant rights activist and influencer. My parents and siblings are the only members of my family in the U.S. Growing up, I was not aware of my undocumented status. And it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized I was part of an enormous community of people advocating for immigration reform.

MT: How did DACA help you and your siblings?

SM: DACA helped my sister and I because it opened limited opportunities to function normally within our spaces — for example, by providing a driver’s license opportunity, working authorization and a social security number. Driving to school and college, supporting our family by being able to drive my mom to hospital appointments as well as being able to drive to work has meant everything.

MT: Why did you decide to start speaking out?

SM: I started speaking out because I realized that the government was protecting my community less and less. I opened my eyes to the burden that came with knowing the government would not take action to protect undocumented people. The more I began to see deportations and attacks on my community during high school and then in college, I realized speaking out would be an act of revolution.

MT: How did you get started with your activism — giving speeches, mentoring students and using social media as a tool for your message?  

SM: I started by interviewing the Vice President of Costa Rica regarding what countries outside of the U.S. could do to support DACA recipients being that they were born in countries other than the U.S. Along with interviewing politicians, I gave speeches and chose to share my story as a means of stating that I was undocumented and unafraid.

MT: What are you studying and how important is education to you in your journey?

SM: I graduated from community college with an associate’s in diplomacy and international relations in May 2017. In September 2017, Trump rescinded the DACA program and as a DACA recipient, we do not qualify to even apply for financial aid, to take out loans or receive grants. This led to me making the decision of advocating and working towards immigration reform instead of trying to find a way to afford school by saving and working.

MT: You recently made a trip to the border, can you tell us more about the trip — why you went, who you went with, what you took away from the trip?

SM: I went as a communications and media platform for an organization who works in solidarity with the migrant caravan. I boarded a plane for the first time since arriving to the U.S. at 3 years old. I took the trip by myself. I’m currently still on this trip and my biggest takeaway has been the power and resilience of my community despite the oppression [this interview was conducted in February 2019].

(Courtesy of Sara Mora)

(Courtesy of Sara Mora)

MT: How can people be better allies to DACA recipients and support immigration reform?

SM: People can be better allies if they get involved with local community organizations and do their research while getting informed. It is important to be updated on how congressional representatives are supporting and creating change and advancing towards immigration reform and legislation that protects not only DACA recipients but also undocumented people.

MT: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you are hoping to run for office one day. Why is this something you’d want to do? What would you hope to change?

SM: I do not think there is anyone better to be in office than people of marginalized communities. When I run for office I will not run alone. It will be alongside hundreds of people who grew up seeing the government implement fear tactics on our communities. I know that we will fight for our communities in office because we as youth, as community leaders, are already fighting.

MT: Online activism is a huge part of your work, what advice do you have for other girls who want to start taking action but don’t know where to start?

SM: My biggest advice is choose two to four issues you want to stand for and stand by them. Be thorough in ensuring that the information and resources you share are accurate and build a community by engaging with the people that engage with you on your platform. Mobilizing people online and this concept of online activism is truly about being of service to others and not about the ego.

The time is now to speak out. History is being made as we speak. Staying silent and “minding your business” makes you complicit to the oppression of thousands and thousands of people. All resources, talents and voices are welcome in a movement of change that is fighting against an aggressive force of oppression that does not rest.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Through Assembly, Malala Fund is helping girls around the world share their stories. Subscribe to receive our newsletter and learn about the next generation of leaders.


about the author

McKinley Tretler is communications manager at Malala Fund. She’s on the hunt for the perfect Oreo milkshake and to befriend Mindy Kaling.