Friday, January 30, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Illegal and unafraid: Young immigrants ‘come out’ in reform push

Dulce Guerrero, left, an illegal immigrant organizes a rally May 31 with activist Mohammad Abdollahi in Atlanta, where illegal immigrant high schoolers planned to tell their stories and "come out of the shadows." AP photo

In a May 31, 2011 photo, illegal immigrant Dulce Guerrero, left, takes part in a meeting organizing a rally with activist Mohammad Abdollahi, right, where illegal immigrant high school students plan to tell their stories and "come out of the shadows" in Atlanta. Guerrero and other young people are taking a grassroots approach to organizing, staging actions across the country and escalating their efforts from rallies and letter-writing to sit-ins and civil disobedience. (AP Photo/David Goldman)(AP Photo/David Goldman)

By
July 2, 2011 |

By Kate Brumback

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 last week when a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist revealed he’s been living in the country illegally.

Guerrero is the chief organizer of a rally last Tuesday at the Georgia State Capitol for high school-age illegal immigrants to tell their stories. The recent high school graduate and others hoped 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 last month that he is an illegal immigrant from the Philippines.

“It’s very exciting,” said 25-year-old Mohammad 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 United States 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 UC Davis, and her mother were granted a stay in their deportation proceedings last month 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, 2 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 was working to attract participants for last 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 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 in May.

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

Comments

comments

The Associated Press

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Town hall focuses on Coordinated Care Initiative

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

     
    Schools give parents tools to help kids thrive

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Suspected Ebola patient being treated at UCD Med Center

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Stanford University to get $50 million to produce vaccines

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Two more cases of measles in Northern California in children

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Dartmouth bans hard liquor

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A2

     
    Walkers head out three times weekly

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3Comments are off for this post

    Free tax preparation service begins Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    No bare bottoms, thanks to CommuniCare’s Diaper Drive

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Storyteller relies on nature as his subject on Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Still time to purchase tickets for DHS Cabaret

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    All voices welcome at sing-along Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Great Chefs Program will feature Mulvaney

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    February science fun set at Explorit

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    Take a photo tour of Cuba at Flyway Nights talk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    See wigeons, curlews and meadowlarks at city wetlands

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Time for bed … with Grandma

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

     
    A ‘new deal’ for the WPA building

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Protect root zone to save trees

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Weigh quality of life, density

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Olive expert joins St. James event

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    We’re grateful for bingo proceeds

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    .

    Sports

    UCD has another tough football schedule in 2015

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Gould’s influence felt mightily in recent Super Bowls

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    Mustangs hold off UCD women

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD men set new school D-I era win record

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Sharks double up Ducks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Watney, Woods start slow at TPC Scottsdale

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    Recall that first Aggie TV game, national title?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B8 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    ‘Artist’s Connection’ launches on DCTV

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

     
    ‘Song of the Sea’ is an enchanting fable

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Gross’ paintings highlight a slice of Northern California

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    February show at YoloArts’ Gallery 625 is ‘Food for Thought’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, January 30, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: A9