I think it would be nearly impossible for me to study what I do in the city that I do and not be engaged in the immigrant rights movement. Los Angeles has the greatest density of immigrants in the U.S., primarily Latino immigrants. I have chosen to serve my community alongside the members of DREAM Team LA (dreamteamla.org), which is an immigrant rights organization affiliated with United We Dream (unitedwedream.org).
Yesterday, August 25th, was the United We Dream National DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Day. Free legal clinics and educational forums were hosted in various locations across the nation for those who qualify for Deferred Action. Dream Team LA hosted the Los Angeles DACA Day at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex. I volunteered to be Volunteer Coordinator, which was one of only 5 coordinator roles. We spent the week prior to the event planning and organizing from 8am to sometimes 1 or 2am planning the event. We did everything from phone banking and Costco runs, to volunteer and lawyer training and applicant pre-screenings.
We anticipated over 2,000 people, and though we have not calculated the final count I am almost certain we saw over 3,000 and served over 1,000 applicants. I believe we also saw over 200 volunteers. I have yet to get over the fatigue and exhaustion from the event, but these physical effects are secondary to the overwhelming pride, humility, empowerment, joy and love I feel for my community and all those who chose to spend even just a few hours supporting those who have been living in the shadows for so long.
Having spent over 40 hours planning and coordinating the Los Angeles DACA Day I learned that there are many people willing to come forward to acknowledge their undocumented status, and still so many more than are fearful of what will happen when they do (primarily in light of the upcoming election). To those folks I suggest considering two things: 1) It would be much harder to strip the rights of 1.4 million people, than 1,000 people. The more people step forward now, the less likely it is that a future president will rescind this executive order. 2) Fear leads to nothing more than silence. The only way we can change the system, the only way we can overcome that fear is by mobilizing. Through movement building we can see comprehensive immigration reform. The chants “Undocumented and Unafraid!” from youth at the application drive yesterday should echo throughout the nation. I could provide more reasons, but an article I read in the Huffington Post does a very nice job of hitting some key points, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-luis-gutierrez/ten-reasons-young-people_b_1775552.html.
This is only the beginning, there are 1.4 million children and young adults who meet the eligibility for Deferred Action, 1.4 million children and young adults who can openly apply for jobs, attend colleges and universities, and infuse our economy in countless ways. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that these 1.4 million are only 12% of the total undocumented population (11.2 million) living in the United States. Despite the positive move that is recognizing the very existing of human beings in our nation, Deferred Action is far too exclusive to be deemed a favor for the immigrant community. Further, it is all too similar to Temporary Protected Status, which is a temporary (18 mo.) residency permit for Central Americans effected by the civil wars which plagued the region in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that has proved to leave many people in a convoluted legal limbo that is more frequently leading people to detention and deportation than ever before. Like I said earlier, we need to build this movement– strengthen our conviction, organize our communities and see a true and just change in our society. El pueblo unido…