National Week of Action: Youth-Led Immigrant Rights Movement Fights for '11 Million Dreams'

Imagine wearing an ankle shackle that barked commands. Or receiving hundreds of hateful racist calls, texts and emails. Or deciding not to become a parent because of your fear of being separated from your child.

These are just some of the consequences of being undocumented in the United States that usually only become unveiled through storytelling. That’s why undocumented immigrant students joined with the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education last year to produce Undocumented and Unafraid— a sequel to their 2008 publication Underground Undergrads.

The publication is divided into two halves. The first part is dedicated to Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, who were both UCLA alumni and nationally known leaders of the immigrant youth movement. In May 2010, they were tragically killed in a car crash by a drunk driver.   

Tran and Felix played a fundamental role in kickstarting the youth-led immigrant rights movement, which was key in ultimately pushing the federal DREAM Act through the U.S. House in 2010. Though it eventually failed a filibuster in the Senate, the movement’s continual push was largely responsible for Obama’s Deferred Action memorandum passed this past summer.

“It was hard to fight for a position at the table because people tend to look at youth and not think they have a valid perspective, or a valid voice, or a valid story to share. And so [with the memorandum] I think we’ve proven otherwise,” said Sofia Campos, co-coordinator of the on-going national book tour for Undocumented and Unafraid and board chair of United We Dream, a network of youth-led immigrant rights organizations around the country.

Obama, in his State of the Union address, emphasized comprehensive immigration reform, and his "Gang of Eight" are currently drafting a bipartisan plan. But Congress, of course, still needs a push in the right direction — and the youth-led immigrant rights movement is still alive and well, organizing nationwide and giving Congress the push it needs.

Just last month a group of undocumented immigrant youth disrupted a congressional hearing on immigration reform, shouting, "Undocumented and unafraid:"

Campos said the movement is continuing to push for immigration reform as a whole as well as for the passage of the federal DREAM Act. United We Dream is one of the several national youth-led immigrant rights organizations that is leading this charge. For its current campaign, "11 Million Dreams," United We Dream is organizing a week of action on Mar. 11 - 15 to call for a path to citizenship and fair treament for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including a moratorium on deportations. Events will take place nationwide. In Los Angeles, Dream Team LA has organized banner drops all week, as well as a rally and phone bank event. Campos said communities across the country are organizing to fight local battles as well, from pushing for in-state tuition bills to resisting S.B. 1070 copycat bills.

Campos said she thinks part of the reason young people are playing such a pivotal role in local and national immigrant rights movements is that they have a lot of privileges growing up in the United States.

“We don’t have as many language barriers as our parents often do. We’re able to go through the entire education system, K-12 at the very least, with some ease and some access,” she said. “I think we have been able to use that to our advantage and really make sure that we begin to speak for ourselves because we are our own best advocates.”

Campos said that by using their voices and coming out of the shadows of being undocumented, they have been able to release some of the shame and fear imposed on their community. They have also been able to stop deportations even immigration lawyers couldn’t stop, and have encouraged their parents and undocumented workers to partake in civil disobedience.

“We understand that we have power to change things. I feel like a lot of the times our society feels disempowered, when really the power lies in the people,” Campos said. “And so I think that’s just a little part of what the immigrant youth movement has begun to reveal.”

Campos said that storytelling has been key in empowering people, and it can often dispel myths better than facts:

“Up until recently, a lot of the immigration fight was focused on numbers and economics and fighting myths and a lot of ignorance … but I think using our stories, and bringing to life the faces and the real experiences we go through and really proving that there is no one kind of immigrant — you know we’re not all Mexican. … There’s no one single kind of way that you get here. No single kind of entry or experience that should be generalized for the entire immigrant population. I think we were able to prove that very effectively with our stories.”

AlterNet will be publishing excerpts from Undocumented and Unafraid this week, in solidarity with the 11 Million Dreams week of action.


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