Home > Uncategorized > Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic

Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic

As many (or some) of you know, I write quite a bit on immigration and how it pertains to the political and national narrative in this country.  Recently, I published a piece on the media’s use of the term “illegal” and how it affects the national debate.  Overtime, I’ve also attempted to make the case for the DREAM Act and why it is so important, not only to the young undocumented people who will benefit, but for the nation as a whole.  In retrospect, it’s been a good run.  Stories have been shared, stats have been presented, all in an effort to give a compelling yet not too biased account of what I think about the issue.

However, none of it has prepared me for this week.  A week that can shift the dialogue within the immigration debate in 2012, especially during this election year.

This week, thousands of youth across the country will be coming out as “undocumented” during Coming Out Week of Action.  For months, activists have been preparing for this major campaign, providing an atmosphere and a safe platform for youth all across the country.  It’s an opportunity to “come out” as undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.

Recently, I had the incredible honor of meeting a few of these individuals in Washington, DC and while the campaign seems scary and risky, it’s necessary.  For over ten years now, immigrant activists have been heavily involved in the debate, attempting to fully engage the public and Congress on finding humane solutions to a broken immigration system.  While there have been some instances where it looked like we’d see some success, something incredibly disappointing occurs (like Congressional gridlock) and the road to some kind of reform collapses.

Undocumented immigrants coming out this week know that time is running out for them and millions of others.  Congress and the President of the United States have not and may not prioritize the issue again this year, moving along with a very little sense of urgency.  With no solution at the federal level, states are taking every effort to victimize undocumented immigrants, who are enduring a maddening game of tug of war, gone utterly wrong.  Just when you think the right thing is going to be done and reform looks promising, the other side yanks hope away, leaving activists with mud on their faces.

The harshest opponents to immigration reform are becoming much more critical these

Picture by Emma Hernandez Courtesy of Walk Against Fear Facebook Page

days and are taking those who were once sympathetic, with them.  All across the country, state houses have seen an increasing number of anti-immigration legislation introduced and in some places, have gone so far as to signing them into law.  States like Arizona, Mississippi and Alabama have shown that no immigrant is welcomed…but more importantly, persons of color are seen as outsiders in their own communities.

Alabama’s infamous and the nation’s strictest anti-immigrant law, passed last summer in the state legislature.  The Alabama law not only gave law enforcement the right to “verify a person’s immigration status during routine traffic stops and/or arrests, if “a reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country illegally” but it has also created a temperament of fear all across the state and throughout the deep South.  

On Sunday, a group of young immigrant activists, many of whom are undocumented, set forth on a 200+ walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.  The Walk Against Fear, which brings awareness to civil rights violations immigrants suffer today due to anti-immigrant laws, is a march that is attempting to also capture the same resilience Civil Rights leaders had when they too made the journey. James Meredith, a Civil Rights activist and the first African American admitted into the University of Mississippi during segregation, was part of that march 50 years ago.  In the next few weeks, these activists will be confronted with the same objections Mr. Meredith faced during his time and risking their lives to end racism.  Gaining civil rights for all is not easy, the Civil Rights movement proved that.  Activists like Ingrid Cruz and Patricio Gonzalez, understand this as they walk towards Jackson today.  They too can no longer wait.

People around the country argue that perhaps when we discuss the issue of immigration reform, we should not focus too much on the human side of things and instead debate the issue objectively.  (I’ve never understood this concept, but whatever.)

Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste reportaje - 389 Miles "Living the Border"

However, if we want to look at this thing “objectively” then it is necessary to take an hour of your time today and watch the film, 389 Miles: Living the Border by my friend LuisCarlos Davis. In this brilliant film, LuisCarlos depicts life along the Arizona/Sonora border, exposing the true stories of those living on both sides of the border, learning about the actors who risk their lives every day, facing human predators and dangerous terrain, to only succumb to defenders of a broken system.

You cannot help but carefully listen to both sides of the story and not be sympathetic.  As an incredibly passionate supporter of the plight of the immigrant community,  I was once again taken aback by the resiliency many have when crossing into the unknown.  All the while I could not help but also feel utter outrage towards our society and our unwillingness to look beyond color and focus on the true nature of what brings people here.  LuisCarlos film captures the angst on both sides, showing that even after years of debating this issue, people still do not have the answers.

This week provides us all with an opportunity to learn and fully understand why immigrants come here and why they fight to stay.  Those individuals coming out of the shadows all across the country, activists Ingrid Cruz and Patricio Gonzales marching on to Jackson to fight racism, and LuisCarlos who took the risk of making and sharing his film to the world, are people who can no longer wait for government to find the solution.

Let us remember that as this young generation of activists move forward to share their own personal stories, they carry with them the stories of 12 million human beings still too scared to share theirs.

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