My Unplanned Senate Testimony: How Local Immigration Enforcement Policies Hurt Communities, Including My Family

Monday morning, as I walked to the Capitol to join Grassroots Leadership’s Cristina Parker, Lauren Voyles, and several other immigrant rights advocates from the community in a senate hearing on sanctuary cities, I received the following text message: “Have you testified in one of these before? If not, it could be a good opportunity. They are talking about border issues, so it may be a good thing for you to speak about”

Cue panic attack. I had never testified before and the last senate hearing I had attended was opened with testimony from an eloquent and well-prepared professor, the opposite of what I felt that morning. 

Outside of the room holding the hearing Cristina quickly explained the process and I hastily filled out a form so that I could be put on the docket to testify. She handed me a piece of paper to scribble out a quick script for myself and after staring at it for a few seconds I realized I actually did have a lot to say and I wanted it to be heard.

“My name is Eleana Díaz and I represent the UT School of Social Work, Grassroots Leadership, and the Rio Grande Valley, where I was raised. I am also speaking to you as the wife of someone who was undocumented.”

With my heart pounding in my ears I spent the bulk of my few minutes in front of the senators discussing my experience researching the undocumented population and the fear and apprehension that this group has come to develop toward law enforcement and other public agencies. This trepidation is in large part the direct result of policies in this state and beyond (I’m looking at you, Secure Communities) that tighten the connection between local entities and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Much of my research has also indicated that even when such a connection does not exist, these laws create confusion and uncertainty that can lead to a decrease in the health status and overall well-being of individuals who are undocumented.

During my time I also referenced some work I did on a project for the School of Social Work when the Austin Police Department identified their difficulty engaging with the undocumented population as a point of concern that decreased both the safety of that population and of the city as a whole.

In my final moments in front of the senators I explained how the things I had found in my research were not isolated to the pages of academic journals; my findings echoed very real and very upsetting experiences lived by my husband, his family, and numerous friends in the Rio Grande Valley.

At the end of my testimony I felt a wave of relief, but one that was different from what I had expected. Instead of simply being glad that it was over I felt better realizing that what I had to say was something that needed to be heard and it was heard.