Student Organizers Cheer Arrival of Deferred Action, Brace for Bigger Fight
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In particular, the sharing of personal stories – at great perceived and actual risk -- has helped student organizers marshal widespread support for their cause. In a process of community building that doubles as a highly effective political action, an ever growing number of undocumented students have been “coming out of the shadows,” and making their status and stories public. This process, while undertaken by some individuals earlier in the decade, became a focal point of the movement’s strategy in 2010, and has continued to grow in practice since then.
Until 2010, when the first “Coming Out of the Shadows” rally was held in Chicago, Mora said, coming out of the shadows meant “putting yourself and your family at risk of deportation.” Yet student organizers began to realize that the more public they were with their status, the more protection they were afforded. They were no longer invisible – they put faces and names behind the label of “illegal” or “alien” and challenged the government to deport them. And in overwhelming numbers, students who came out of the shadows were not deported.
Antezana, now an undergraduate and student activist at Cal State Los Angeles, believes this tactic has had the most influence on the recent successes of the movement. “[Coming out of the shadows] was the biggest thing. That’s what put us, our faces, our stories into the mainstream media,” he said. “People felt it. We’ve got passionate, impressive individuals who want to continue on to higher education and contribute back to the community they’ve grown up in.” Their personal stories have been hard for many people – journalists, politicians, and everyday citizens – to ignore.
When I ask Mora to describe his own reaction to the news of the Executive Order, and the impact it’s likely to have, he tells me a story of perseverance and stubbornness, of sticking to the principles built out of the movement’s shared stories and struggles, and not being satisfied with the “easy” choice.
On June 14, 2012, the day before Obama’s Executive Order was announced, Mora received a call from his supervisor. Mora was working as the media lead for an action planned to take place the next day, in downtown Los Angeles, as part of the Right to Dream campaign. His supervisor told him that they had just gotten a call from the White House saying that President Obama had decided to grant administrative relief to students. Yet Mora and his fellow organizers were skeptical. “I thought – this could just be another announcement, like they always do,” he said.
His skepticism was well founded -- immigrant rights activists had received public assurances from government officials before. Almost a year prior, on June 17, 2011, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, had issued a memorandum calling for increased discretion amongst immigration agents. The memo urged agents to consider several factors before deciding a case, including how long the immigrant has been in the United States, whether he was brought to the country as a child, and whether he was currently a student or held a degree. Initially excited by what the memorandum might bring, many organizers, including Mora, realized over the next few months that, in fact, the memo was having little practicable effect. “It failed miserably,” he said. “It was a joke.”
Confronted with what at first seemed to be a similar announcement – although this time from Obama himself – Mora and his fellow organizers took the success in stride and waited to see how it would play out. They decided to go ahead with their action (which was also coordinated by members of Dream Team LA and the Orange County Dream Team) and rallied more than 170 students and Dream Act supporters in front of the federal office building in downtown Los Angeles.