North Texas Daily

The fight for sanctuary

The fight for sanctuary

February 07
21:21 2017

He enters the coffee shop with his thick mustache curled into a smile.

Nods and waves come from left and right as David Lopez, a 22-year-old English senior, finds a seat next to one of his comrades.

But Lopez isn’t just a people person, he’s a man of the people.

With a megaphone in his hands and shades covering the fire in his eyes, he has led marches through the fountain mall, staged walkouts at the Denton Courthouse and gone toe-to-toe with UNT president Neal Smatresk, all in the effort to make UNT a sanctuary campus.

It’s a cause he believes in, and though Texas governor Greg Abbott and Smatresk have issued flat rejections to his pleas for sanctuary, Lopez said he hasn’t given up.

“Activism is a cycle,” he said. “You go through your highs and your lows. It’s not going to be easy. This isn’t a battle that will be over in a month.”

Lopez is the copresident of MUEVE, a group with the mission of “promoting equality and respect for the Chicanx & Latinx community.” The terms Chicanx and Latinx refer to a more gender-neutral spelling of words pertaining to indigenous roots.

With President Donald Trump in office, as Brad Pitt’s “Inglorious Bastards” character Lt. Aldo Raine once said, “business is a-boomin’.”

After the presidential election, Lopez said MUEVE membership, as well as his conviction, have been on the rise.

“I’m ready for the fight,” Lopez said. “We had our days of shock, grief, sadness, worrying, concern, fear, but that time passed and we realize now we have to mobilize and organize. We cannot let this get in our way.”


Lopez was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, a city located on the border separating his family’s past from his future.

The Lopez family are all U.S. citizens now, but in the 1980s this wasn’t the case.

“[My dad] would literally swim across the river and hitch a ride to Houston every two weeks to work, and go back and back and back, to support our family,” Lopez said.

Thanks to the sacrifices of his parents and, ironically, an amnesty bill signed by former president Ronald Reagan, his family became U.S. citizens.

Life on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande Valley was still mired in poverty and crime. But for what the city lacked in resources, it made up for with a tight knit community.

“I think I had a very good childhood despite how poor we were and that goes back to the love in the community we have. That’s something we can’t forget,” Lopez said. “That love is so important, it’s what keeps me motivated.”

The reason Lopez is majoring in English, thanks to a scholarship to UNT, is directly related to the community he left behind. He wants to channel has activism to education, specifically as a high school English teacher in Brownsville.

“I only feel like it’s fair to give back to my community in that way,” he said.

Dylan Hensley, a media arts junior, grew up with Lopez in the Rio Grand Valley. He said he’s seen Lopez grow leaps and bounds since their days in the Valley.

“He’s always been David to me,” Hensley said. “But [in the Rio Grand Valley] everyone is in that same pool. Here, it’s different. He was like, ‘I can step into this arena now.’ I’ve seen him grow to become much more active and responsive to the community he can help speak for.”


In the spring of 2016, Lopez joined MUEVE and was nominated as the group’s copresident.

“If you look into my background, you could see from a mile away that I would become an activist,” he said.

It’s not activism for the sake of activism, Lopez said. He joined because he cares. He cares for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students, who are at risk of deportation in his community.

 “It’s a personal movement,” Lopez said.

But Lopez is not alone. Others take MUEVE’s movements personally, too.

At the Day of the Dead Festival, Lopez said a woman spat on him and other members protesting. Later, the police were called and MUEVE was forced to disperse.

Dealing with trolls has become part of the game. But he said he’s learned that particular task isn’t one of his gifts.

He said that’s why he cherishes MUEVE. He calls it a leader-full movement with his comrades each exhibiting their strengths in different ways.

“We would have no movement without them,” Lopez said.

One of those comrades working behind the scenes is music senior Adriana Valls. Valls has been in MUEVE for three years and said Lopez has brought energy and action to the movement, though admitting it might be due to the political climates as of late.

Valls said she is more behind the scenes in a more creative capacity for the group, but said everyone has their talents that work together.

“It’s a group effort,” Valls said. “In MUEVE, there isn’t really an hierarchy. It’s not one person, everyone has a say.”

Though the group is involved in several protests, they also work in different capacities, whether it be attending town hall meetings or drafting their proposals to enact change. In the aftermath of sanctuary being shot down, Lopez hopes to employ a more personal strategy to let their voices be heard.

He said it’s all about connecting with people and bringing two opposing points together, and he hopes he can do just that alongside Smatresk down the road.

If not sanctuary, Lopez hopes to discuss ideas, such as policies directed towards students taking online classes or being refunded their tuition in the event they are deported.

Activism is a cycle, and Lopez said he and MUEVE plan to keep chipping away.

“If we can guarantee any rights for undocumented students or DACA students, we’re doing our job,” Lopez said. “The fight’s not over.”

Featured Image: David Lopez is the president of MUEVE, a University of North Texas Latino social justice organization. Lopez became involved in MUEVE during the spring semester of 2016 and later became its president. Jake King

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Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson

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