So many groundbreaking women gathered at New York’s Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on Monday, November 11, to accept their Glamour Woman of the Year awards for work across entertainment, environmentalism, fashion, and more. And the fearless women behind Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), an organization in Texas working to bring immigrant families back together, had a powerful message about living as an immigrant in the U.S.
Sunnyside actor Kal Penn introduced the women who were on hand to accept the award: Lucia Allain, Erika Andiola, Mayra Jimenez, and Andrea Meza. “In the past year, nearly one million migrants in custody have been held in unsanitary, overcrowded detention centers for months at a time,” Penn said. “We’ve all heard the horror stories of deportations and family separations. But tonight you’re going to hear about an organization in Texas that steps in to right the wrongs and bring families back together, doing their damnedest to get them on a path to American citizenship. The organization is called RAICES, and these are the women who power it.”
Allain spoke on behalf of all the women at RAICES. Read her full speech, below:
“On behalf of all the women at RAICES, we would like to thank the entire team from Glamour for this award. We’re humbled and honored by your recognition.
“You might have just heard of us when communities across the country came together to protest Trump’s zero-tolerance policy in so many ways—including by donating to RAICES.
“Those donations let us pay for bonds for those in detention today, who would be unable to see their families otherwise. They let us go to the border and tell stories of those kept waiting in Mexico, spending months with their families in tent encampments before their asylum hearings. They let us go to bus stations in Texas where ICE releases people from detention every day with no idea how to navigate their new lives. Andrea and Mayra are lawyers, Erika is an advocate, and every woman at RAICES fights for our immigrant community.
“I started to organize when I was 13 after understanding that my status didn’t allow me to work ‘legally’—first babysitting, then washing dishes. I started writing down the different stories that I heard in the jobs I had. I felt unrepresented, since people were always focusing on the ‘good immigrant,’ the ones that come in the ‘right way’ and those who fulfill the ‘American Dream’—whatever that’s supposed to be.
“The truth isn’t so easy. I had a choice of going either to school or surviving. I had to help my madrecita put food on the table and raise my brother. But the system doesn’t reward those priorities. Instead, the system made me and my family suffer. It’s deporting my friends, it’s killing families, it’s putting children in cages, and keeping thousands of people in danger across the border. It’s this system that these women on stage are fighting every day.
“My mom, sitting right there, the love of my life, that beautiful woman, is a woman who knows how to play both mama and papa. She’s a woman who gave up her dreams, left everything behind in Peru, like so many mothers may be doing at this moment. The story I continue to write is her story, and tonight, I want to give her some hope in writing a new chapter in her life.”
Allain then called her mother up to the stage and presented her with a gift: an envelope containing her green card. “You’ve been waiting for this for the past 17 years,” she said, "and I’m happy to let you know that you are finally getting it.”
The women then led the audience in a chant: “When immigrant rights are under attack, what do you do? Stand up. Fight back!”
A leader in providing legal services to immigrants in federal detention centers and in the community, RAICES is a resource for asylum-seeking families in a system designed for them to fail. With over 10 million undocumented individuals in the U.S., RAICES helps unaccompanied children, single adults, families, and the LGBTQ community feel welcomed, safe, and protected in their new cities.
With the enactment of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, RAICES’s work is more vital than ever. And after raising $20 million through a Facebook fundraiser amid nationwide uproar over family separations, it’s clear that they’re not slowing down. The majority of RAICES’s employees are female, and women hold most of the leadership positions, so Glamour was honored to welcome the change-makers at the annual awards ceremony.
Find out more about Glamour’s 2019 Women of the Year here.
Originally Appeared on Glamour