A new youth movement was born the United States in 2010, and is growing as a genuine grass roots movement. Young undocumented student raised in the U.S. are speaking out against fear and they are demanding a document that can prove what they already know: that they are also Americans.Undocumented and Unafraid. Photo by NYSYLC
Undocumented students in the U.S. have decided to speak out publicly this year with acts of civil disobedience, in order to denounce an immigration system that they consider "immoral" because it's dividing families and "forces people like us into the shadows, stripping us of the opportunity to participate meaningfully in society."
This new movement is inspired in some way by the LGBT movement in the U.S. as they are "coming out" to say they are undocumented not criminals, and they want to get educated to help their families and communities.
The website DreamActivist organized last March 11-25 what they called "National Coming Out of the Shadows Week" and they even posted a how-to guide in their website. These actions have already got some positive results at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Walking for a dream
This year nine undocumented students have WALKED thousands of miles to Washington, DC, to demand justice for the immigrant community and to ask president Obama and the U.S. Congress to fix the broken immigration system.
Four of these students walked 1,500 miles from Miami while other five students walked 250 miles from New York City. All of them met in Washington, DC, on the last week of April and they visited Congress and different colleges to lobby in favor of an immigration reform, and to educate other students about their struggle.
Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, Carlos Roa, and Juan Rodriguez left Miami on January 1st, completing what they called the Trail of Dreams while reaching out to immigrant communities and especially undocumented youth. In their journey they also met attacks and threats from racist groups [Read their blog here].
Meanwhile Jose Luis Zacatelco, Marisol Ramos, Gabriel Martinez, Daniela Arulema Hidalgo and Martin Lopez left New York City on April 10th, as part of the New York State Youth Leadership Council - NYSYLC activist organization. [Read their website here]
Their common and most immediate demand was for Congress to pass the DREAM Act bill, which will allow undocumented students raised in the U.S. to get access to a legalization of their immigration status.
Every year, 67,000 high school UNDOCUMENTED students graduate in the United States. Most of them were brought to this county as little kids by their parents, who wanted them to have a better future especially to get a better education. After high school, these young Americans can't study at college or work legally, because they lack of citizenship. [Read more here.]
Last weekend I had the chance to meet Gaby, Carlos and Juan right after they finished their long walk. This is what they said at the end of their journey after they participated at the White House protest of civil disobedience:
The guys of Trail of Dreams seemed very secure of what they believed, they are all really inspiring and even though they were extremely tired, they accepted talking to me for a few minutes. Thanks for that!
However I am still wondering how did they manage to walk 1,500 miles without being detained in the jurisdictions where local police is entitled to enforce immigration laws, including some counties in North Carolina and Virginia. Not that I wish that, at all.
Last weekend also I run into the NYSYLC group during the DC Immigration rally, but I wasn't aware of who they were. However I interviewed a group of their NY supporters and I will post the video soon.
From their blog, here is a video of their lobby action in DC when they visited the offices of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) last week. They painted their faces to represent that behind our dying and bloody communities, there are strong young people willing to continue fighting for justice:
These nine students represent very well the undocumented immigration trends happening in the East coast in the last few years, especially among the Spanish-speaking communities.
Undocumented newcomers in the East Coast are mostly from Mexico and Central America, many of whom are settling in NYC and other urban areas, but also rural areas of the East Coast, most of whom are Indigenous immigrants. Also newcomers are from South America and the Caribbean settling mostly in Miami and NYC, and they racially mixed of Indigenous, African and European heritage.
During their journey these brave students met with supporters. One of them is well-known artist and activist Favianna, who traveled from California to Miami to support the Trail of Dreams' effort. "When I first met them I was skeptical of their plans, but then I witnessed their progress in these four months as they walked 15-20 miles per day. In their journey they have met with other undocumented immigrants and students who told them their personal stories. "
The NY walkers said in their website to other undocumented students: "Don't be afraid! Organize and demand the change that we need. We are all united in this cause and we are here to support each other."
"As long as the system oppresses us"
I spoke to NYSYLC today and they confirmed their walkers have made it back to NYC safely, and I understand the Trail of Dreams walkers left DC yesterday.
When I talked to Gaby Pacheco in DC she said that she will continue "fighting for justice" and this was supported by Carlos Roa who said that "as long as the system oppresses us, I'm going to continue on fighting". He mentioned that his activism comes from what he learned during his childhood while growing up in Miami, before his mother -also an undocumented immigrant- passed away.
Carlos said he was inspired by the example of Martin Luther King Jr. and he tells undocumented students to "besides losing the fair, I tell undocumented students to stand up for others, because when you do that. your life will changes and you will be a better person."
About Immigration Reform, Carlos Roa said that if the Obama administration and Congress don't act now "Latinos will not come out to vote in November... today was a testament of the frustration, anger and years living in fear... we can't wait and we won't wait anymore."
This refreshing movement of civil disobedience will impact a generation of young immigrants, especially the so called Latino youth who are really in need of strong leaders and role models.
These brave activists are not only telling the U.S. that they deserve a space in our society -as this is the only country they know as home- but also and even after they legalize their immigration status, these young leaders are setting an example for others that will be remembered for generations, and I suspect these guys will continue making a difference in our communities.
To learn more about the DREAM Act get involved here