published Friday, June 24th, 2011

Illegal immigrant youths ‘come out’ in reform push


Associated Press

ATLANTA — Eighteen-year-old Dulce Guerrero kept quiet about being an illegal immigrant until earlier this year, when she became upset after a traffic stop that landed her mother in jail for two nights. The arrest came as Georgia lawmakers were crafting what would become one of the nation’s toughest immigration crackdowns, and Guerrero feared her mother would be deported.

“I feel like that was my breaking point, when my mom was in jail,” said Guerrero, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 2. “I felt like, well, that’s it, it can’t get any worse than this. My mother has been to jail.”

Guerrero first publicly announced her immigration status at a protest in March, and now she’s organizing a rally under the tutelage of more experienced activists who are themselves only a few years older. The high-stakes movement of young illegal immigrants declaring that they’re “undocumented and unafraid” got a boost this week when a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist revealed he’s been living in the country illegally.

Guerrero is the chief organizer of a rally set for Tuesday at the Georgia State Capitol for high school-age illegal immigrants to tell their stories. The recent high school graduate and others hope to draw attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

Already around the country, efforts by young activists have ranged from rallies and letter-writing to sit-ins and civil disobedience, drawing inspiration from civil rights demonstrations decades ago, with the aim of forcing the federal government to reform rules for immigrants in their situation.

In one of the most high-profile declarations yet, former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas used an ABC News interview and a New York Times Magazine article to announce Wednesday that he is an illegal immigrant from the Philippines.

“It’s very exciting,” said 25-year-old Mohammed Abdollahi, a veteran protester who’s helping Guerrero. Vargas’ revelation “shows that we exist in all walks of life. Folks don’t realize how American we are,” he said.

Some in the community fear Vargas’ admission that he used false documents to get a driver’s license and a job could invite backlash, but it illustrates the difficult reality for illegal immigrants seeking to pursue their goals, Abdollahi said.

Those who come forward make themselves vulnerable, but it’s no guarantee they’ll have to leave the U.S. right away. Some have been deported despite broad support from their communities asking that they be allowed to stay. Others, like Georgia college student and cause celebre Jessica Colotl, have won at least temporary reprieves.

Mandeep Chahal, an honors student at the University of California, Davis, and her mother were granted a stay in their deportation proceedings Tuesday after Chahal, 20, campaigned on Facebook to avoid being sent back to India.

Proponents of stricter enforcement of immigration laws often concede that young people in this situation are among the most sympathetic cases but that legalizing them still raises problems.

“Our own American young adult college grads are in dire straits in the job market — and particularly disproportionately Hispanic and black Americans — so what the DREAM Act does is adds potentially a million, two million more people to compete legally in that job market,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which pushes for tighter immigration control. “So, as compelling as the case of these DREAM students is, we have to acknowledge that legalizing them does actually victimize our own young adults.”

Guerrero’s been working to attract participants for next week’s rally by telling friends how relieved she felt after speaking out. But she never tries to push people to reveal they’re in the U.S. illegally unless they’re ready and understand the potential consequences.

She’s taking advice from Abdollahi and 22-year-old Georgina Perez, who have both helped organize other protests and share similar backgrounds. Abdollahi was brought to the U.S. from Iran when he was 3 and was raised in Michigan; Perez arrived with her mother from Mexico at age 2, living first in Los Angeles and then near Atlanta.

They offer Guerrero the perspective of activists willing to risk arrest — and the threat of deportation — for their beliefs. Abdollahi, who’s been organizing protests since 2009, was held briefly with three others after they staged a sit-in at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office last year. Perez was arrested after she and six other young immigrants sat in a downtown Atlanta intersection and blocked traffic.

Deportation proceedings were begun against Abdollahi but haven’t progressed past the initial stages, while immigration authorities took no action against Perez. The Obama administration hasn’t promised not to deport young people in their situation, but Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has made it clear that they are not a priority.

Still, the threat of being forced out of the country weighs heavily on those who announce their illegal status.

“I was super nervous,” Perez said, adding: “I had to do it because in order for students to come out, they need to see something; someone needs to set the example.”

The hardest thing, she said, was when she told her mother her plans the night before the rally and her mother apologized for putting her in a difficult situation.

“It’s like you can’t really fully live your life here, and she knows that and it breaks her heart,” Perez said, choking up. “I thank her for bringing me here. I told her, ‘Don’t ever say that again. Don’t apologize.”’

Abdollahi moved to Georgia earlier this year to help organize young people who oppose a new policy that bars illegal immigrants from the state’s most competitive public colleges and universities. They’re also speaking out against the state’s new law that, among other things, authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot provide identification and to detain illegal immigrants.

Guerrero reached out to Perez to ask her to give a presentation at her school on the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to legalization for certain young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The bill has been introduced several times in Congress but has yet to make it through. They kept in touch and Guerrero first spoke out at the rally in March, not long after her mother’s January arrest. She spoke out again at the rally in April and also organized a walkout at her high school last month.

Her parents are extremely protective and she talks to them about how they’ve given up so much to raise her and her brothers here, she said. They’re proud of her and support her speaking out, but they’re scared, she said.

“They’ve brought me as far as they can,” she said. “It’s time for me to take my decisions and walk on my own, and if that means publicly coming out as undocumented to empower other students, that’s what I’m gonna do.”


Associated Press writer Garance Burke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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Veritas said...

What part of ILLEGAL do they not understand, round them up and ship them south of the border, A S A P!

June 24, 2011 at 1:10 p.m.
nucanuck said...

To take thousands of kids who had no part in the decision to come to America, whom America has educated, and now deport them after they have become a valuable resourse, is counter-productive.

Immigration policy should always be guided by what's best for the country, not by narrow haters like the two posters above.

June 24, 2011 at 4:12 p.m.
Humphrey said...

I don't know. The kid has been here since she was two. Probably never even been to Mexico or able to speak Spanish. We've educated her for twelve years. That's a pretty big investment in a kid who has really only known living in the USA. I lean toward nucanuck that it seems counterproductive to deport her. She can be an educated productive member of our society, maybe take care of some wannabe libertarian when he gets too old to keep himself clean and John Galt leaves him outside the cave.

June 24, 2011 at 4:34 p.m.
roadrunner201 said...

I wonder if those who tout "Illegal means illegal" always drive the posted speed limit as well and stop when the light turns yellow instead of speeding up to get through it.

Knew I could come here to find hateful racists.

June 24, 2011 at 7:41 p.m.
hotdoody1997 said...

You guys are a piece of work how can you sit and say send them back? Will stop cuss yet you will get over it.The one thing that gets me is not one of you are white will maybe 55% and ?...The point Iam trying too get cross is you don't even know the other part ??.... Race.Why is it all we here it all about this one RACE.I don't want to sound races but are any of you going too pick the fruits when it is time he'll you want to go to the store and buy it ,and as you are taking your first bite are say ow He'll I can't it's one of those people pick it.And YES guys Iam 67% White and the other 33% is my Business

June 24, 2011 at 11:25 p.m.
fairmon said...

There are ways and systems for being here legally. All illegals are not fruit pickers. In fact most fruit pickers follow the legal process. The racist are those that condone the treatment of those picking fruit and gathering vegetables so they can buy them cheap.

Most posting here have no experience with those areas inundated with a high number of illegal immigrants. The crowding and cost of incarceration is astronomical. The adverse impact on citizens in those areas is devastating. Is there any other country in the world that would allow another country to file a law suit against those in America that try to enforce American laws?

The most under publicized issue is the Mexican drug cartels network in the U.S. The drug war is being lost and will be more expensive than our involvement in the middle east. It may be the fastest growing business in the country.

Anyone employing an illegal should be punished to the point of not being able to employ anyone. Those not here for any reason other than to displace an American worker would not be here if unable to be employed by an employer taking advantage of illegals. Americans put their chest out and say we are a country of laws and support the rule of law. Enforce the law or change it.

July 11, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.
fairmon said...

Unemployment is over 9%. How much of that results form businesses relocating to Mexico so Americans can buy cheap imports? Combine that with the under the radar jobs filled by legal and illegal immigrants, there may be a clue regarding our current economic sate in that analysis. You can always find one or more heart tugging examples in the enforcement of most laws. The transfer of U.S. wealth to Mexico, India, the middle east and others is decimating our economy.

July 11, 2011 at 8:41 a.m.
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