by Michell Hernandez
Living as an undocumented immigrant in the United States can mean many things. For me, it meant isolation, fear and anxiety.
Before December, I had never thought of the possibility that it could ever mean love, friendship and unity. Fortunately, I finally learned it was possible during United We Dream’s D.C. Takeover.
The takeover was focused on attaching a DREAM Act onto a continuing resolution and pushing members of Congress to vote no on any bill that did not include a solution for the thousands of immigrant youth currently living in uncertainty.
The week consisted of sharing stories, civil disobedience, and unifying activities which all came together to create the greatest experience of my life. The lessons I learned will remain in my heart, and I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from such passionate and caring people.
As I traveled to D.C., I did not know what to expect from the trip. My status had kept me from pursuing any activism because I feared exposing my situation to others. It was not until I met other undocumented students at UF that I learned that sharing our stories could make our community stronger, but I continued to fear publicly exposing my status.
As the days passed, I had the chance to hear from other dreamers. Some of the people I heard from had lived through my worst nightmares, but continued to raise their voices for others. The strength and passion that I saw helped push me to share my own story, and I allowed myself to free the anger and sadness that had accumulated for seventeen years.
While I shared my experience as an undocumented immigrant, I felt more empowered than I had ever felt in my life. From that point, I decided that I wanted to chase that feeling every day and fight to help others feel empowered as well.
Although I had never participated in any action, there were many people with a lot of experience to guide me. Throughout the week, I was able to learn from others and slowly develop some leadership skills that I have attempted to obtain through courses or training before, but never successfully mastered.
I was also able to step out of my comfort zone to participate in activities that I never thought I could do. Many of the leaders also taught us how to be more inclusive of all intersections and reminded us that immigration issues impact every community.
Although I did not directly participate in civil disobedience, I watched as many people volunteered to participate. I was inspired by their courage and their willingness to bring about change through whatever means necessary.
On the last day of the trip, there was a gathering held to inform everyone of the outcome of the vote for a continuing resolution. During the gathering, one of the United We Dream leaders gave a speech that reminded us that we had not lost that day. Instead, we had all won a family and had the opportunity to reclaim our humanity. As she spoke, many people cried or held one another for support and tried to find the strength to continue fighting for their dreams. Together, we all healed and lifted each other up to remind ourselves that we would be back in January to continue to demand that Congress members pass a clean DREAM Act.
Undocumented youth are in desperate need of a clean DREAM Act, which would grant them a path toward a permanent legal status in the U.S., since the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA on Sept. 5, 2017.
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was an executive action passed under the Obama administration that gave undocumented youth who came to the country before the age of sixteen an employment authorization card and a social security number. It also gave them protection from deportation, the ability to possess a driver’s license, and the opportunity to pursue higher education.
Unfortunately, with the end of DACA, thousands of undocumented youth are now at risk and 122 are falling out of status each day, which is why it is crucial for Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act by Jan. 19.
To start fighting for immigrant rights or to support immigrants, people can call their senators or representatives and demand that they support immigrant youth by voting on Jan. 19 for a spending bill that includes a clean DREAM Act.
Many people are also mobilizing this week throughout Florida and their events can be found on the Facebook pages of many immigrant rights organizations such as Florida Immigrant Coalition or United We Dream.
I hope that many people decide to be a spark in their community by fighting for the rights of others, and to all the undocumented youth afraid to come out of the shadows – I see you, I hear you and I love you.
Florida Immigrant Coalition Contact Information:
Phone Number: (305) 571-7254
United We Dream Contact Information:
For a powerful article on deportations, see the article “No Refuge” by Sarah Stillman in the January 15 issue of the New Yorker <www.newyorker.com>.