She remembers coming to America at 9 years old. The child arrived at the JFK airport with her single mother. They had one thing on their mind: Achieving the American Dream.
Catalina Cruz, now 35, remembered that day at she stood with hundreds of protesters at LaGuardia Airport in June. There were waiting for immigrant children to arrive who were believed to be separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border because of President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
“I was getting really triggered by flashbacks. I have this vivid memory of walking through JFK. I just remember metal doors being opened and me holding my mom’s hand and it being really, really cold outside,” Cruz said. “For me, that’s all I could think of: ‘These kids are about to walk through these doors and they don’t have their mom holding their hand like I did.’”
Children did not arrive at the airport that day and protesters later realized they were likely taken to shelters.
“We were there until almost 2 in the morning,” she says. “We thought they might’ve been taken through a different door.”
Cruz knows the immigrant struggle all too well because she was once undocumented. But that day is well in the past, today she is running for an Assembly seat in Queens’ 39th District.
Cruz is the first Dreamer — undocumented migrants brought to the U.S. as children — to run for office in New York state.
The Democratic candidate says she owes her success to her hard working mother. Rosa worked multiple jobs like handing out fliers on 82nd St. for $40 a day, selling tamales and empanadas, and serving as a nanny. She provided for her three American-born siblings and that is what motivated Cruz to run for office.
“We came here with a vision of finding a better life,” Cruz says. “I didn’t know English, my mom didn’t know English, we didn’t have any papers.”
In 2005, Cruz became a permanent resident and then obtaining her American citizenship four years later. She went on to serve as director of Gov. Cuomo’s Exploited Workers Task Force, and recently worked as former Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s chief of staff.
“I was lucky enough to get papers, but I was also an attorney and I had all this experience and all these connections with our community and with people in powerful elected offices,” Cruz says. “Why not use it for good? Why not use it to defend our community?”
Cruz says she vows to protect immigrants’ rights by introducing legislation that prohibits state agencies from sharing information with the federal government, providing all New Yorkers with driver licenses regardless of their immigration status, and allocating $100 million over the next five years to fund legal services for them.
“I think that while Washington is attacking us, we as a state have the ability and the responsibility to protect immigrants and what they need to thrive while we wait it out,” Cruz says. “We don’t have a choice. (Trump) is going to be our President for the next two and a half years. In the meantime, we have to ponerlos los pantalones and protect our immigrant communities.”