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By Alicia Torres-Don
In April it was in Georgia. This month, in California. The fear of being undocumented is being dropped across the nation. We as undocumented youth are coming out of the shadows as UNDOCUMENTED, UNAFRAID, UNASHAMED. We are doing this not because we enjoy the thrill of putting our lives on the line every time we come out, but because we, as the directly affected, are living the urgency of the situation on a daily basis.
We have no option to “opt out,” we are undocumented and we live our lives as undocumented. We have to face secure communities, the 287(g) program, and checkpoints on a daily basis. We have to leave our homes every morning with the image of our parents praying with all their might that we may return. We have to face and endure the constant injustices that are being committed against us, our families and our communities. It is because we see, we live, but more importantly, because we recognize that this is not right and that we have the obligation to challenge such injustices that we dare come out as UNDOCUMENTED, UNAFRAID, UNASHAMED.
We live in a time where an epidemic of anti-immigrant sentiment and injustices sweep our nation and it is our obligation to expose such injustices and to challenge these wrongs. We the undocumented have to own our status, our stories, our voice, our power. We are a collective to be reckoned with. To all the undocumented youth in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and all those states where the light seems very dim, I tell you that the power to change and challenge starts with you. Own your status, reach out, organize and challenge.
Like many of us, Erick Velazquillo was at one point living in the shadows, knowing that he was not the only one but feeling like he was–until he was put in circumstances that shook him, made him own his status, and forced him to organize. He is now fighting his deportation through his own means and the collective of undocumented youth that stand behind him. Let’s DROP the FEAR and own our status, our stories, our voice, our power. We are UNDOCUMENTED, UNAFRAID, UNASHAMED, organized and determined to challenge the many injustices that we, our families, and our communities are living. I invite you to DROP the FEAR and take a stand. Here’s how: make a simple video with your story and post it up on your Facebook and send it to us to post on our blog. The time is now.
By Emily Cabaniss
When I was 6 or 7 years old, my mom was driving my sisters and me home from the mall. It was dark and she had her low beams on. About halfway home, her lights unexpectedly went out on the highway. In a panic, she pulled the car over to the side of the road and started flicking switches and twisting knobs trying to get the lights to come back on. I remember being scared at first – we didn’t have a cell phone, we were nowhere near an exit, and we were still pretty far from home. I didn’t know what we were going to do, and my sisters and I bombarded my mom with worried questions. We were making a bad situation much worse. But, then I remember my anxiety giving way to excitement when mom figured out the high beams still worked. Amazing! She had solved the problem! We had lights again! As mom cautiously pulled back into traffic, we continued on our way home – my sisters and I hovering over the back seat noisily “helping” navigate this new adventure.
Not too long into it, though, a driver going the other way flashed his lights at us, signaling mom to turn off her high beams. She was annoying on-coming traffic. Mom cursed nervously at the bind we were in (she was NOT going to turn off the only lights that were working!). She ignored the signal and anxiously continued down the road – high beams blazing. A few minutes later, there were blue lights in her mirror.
My sisters and I fell silent. My parents had been stopped by the police before and those encounters almost always ended with one of them getting a ticket. We knew mom was not happy. She pulled over and waited for the police officer to approach her window. Peering into the back seat at us and then back at mom, he asked her bluntly, “Why didn’t you turn down your high beams when I flashed you?” She explained the problem with her lights and said she knew it was wrong to drive with them on like that, but she didn’t know what else to do. The police officer nodded. He seemed to understand. He told her he was going to let her go as long as she promised to get her car fixed, smiled at us in the back seat, and walked away. She promised. We went home. She didn’t even get a ticket.
That’s how my story ends. Because my mom is a U.S. citizen with white skin, she got to drive away that night, her only lingering concern being how much it was going to cost to get her lights working again. But that’s not the way these kinds of traffic stops end for many undocumented immigrants. I live in North Carolina, a state that is now 100% Secure Communities. That’s the federal immigration enforcement program that deputizes local law enforcement officers to act as agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under those circumstances, even minor traffic violations can result in detention and deportation if drivers are undocumented. That’s what happened to Erick Velazquillo. And it’s wrong.
As an ally in the immigrant rights movement, I am astounded by the increasing brutality of our current immigration enforcement laws. One mistake – one single mistake – and one’s life can change forever. Like my mom, Erick broke a traffic law. Like my mom, he was stopped by police. Like my mom, he offered an explanation. But, that’s where the similarities end. That’s where policies that legalize discrimination against undocumented immigrants lead Erick down a different path that could very well end in deportation. That’s the reality undocumented immigrants face in this country. It’s inhumane, cruel, and un-American. And it’s getting worse.
When Arizona passed SB 1070 last year, it sparked a vicious anti-immigrant flame that has spread rapidly across the states. It has emboldened politicians in Alabama to pass laws requiring principals to determine the legal status of children in their schools. It has led legislators in Georgia to ban college students from attending its top universities. And in North Carolina, undocumented youth trying to enroll in community colleges are forced by law to the back of the line, allowed to register for classes only after everyone else has.
In this kind of climate, where their very existence in this country is criminalized, many undocumented immigrant families are afraid – and rightly so. That makes it all the more surprising and inspiring that some of the young people who are directly impacted by these laws have begun standing up, speaking out, and fighting back.
Following the example set by growing numbers of undocumented youth in this country (here and here, too), Erick is “coming out” and sharing his story with the aim of putting a face on this struggle and demanding humane and progressive change in our immigration laws. I stand with Erick and all of the other undocumented youth who are boldly leading this fight. I ask you do the same.
Please sign this petition to help keep Erick home where he belongs and where we need him.
What would you do if your brother or sister were facing deportation? Would you stand with them? Would you encourage them to fight it? The following essay was written by Angelica Velazquillo, the sister of Erick Velazquillo, who is currently in deportation proceedings. His next court date is July 19, and we need you to sign this petition to keep him home.
By Angelica Velazquillo
I have kept a low profile for years. I have felt ashamed, frustrated, and limited by a secret I have only shared with a few close friends and faculty- I am undocumented. This has caused me and my family fear of being judged, criminalized, and deported.
The weight of this secret has become unbearable, as anti-immigrant legislation has increased throughout the country. This fear became a reality when on October 11, 2010 my brother was pulled over for having his high beams on. I remember the fear on my mother’s face because we both knew what this could mean for my brother and my family.
It was a nightmare coming from the police department to my brother’s empty room, knowing he was spending the night in a jail cell. This was the first of three sleepless nights I spent wondering when I would see my brother again, and praying he would not be transferred to a detention center in Georgia.
While I have lived with fear most of my life it was not until the evening of June 9th that I realized how debilitating it was to succumb to fear. I was at the Bank of America Stadium where Costa Rica was playing soccer against El Salvador, and soon after Mexico would be playing against Cuba. I approached a lady and asked her if she would sign my brother’s petition to stop his deportation. For a fleeting moment there was panic and fear on her face.
This was the moment I realized that if I gave in to fear nothing would change. If I did not speak out against what was happening to my brother, my family, and other fellow immigrants, our struggle would be ignored. Silence would be an agreement, an approval of the injustices being committed against youth, like my brother, who would qualify for and benefit from the Dream Act passing. These young adults are being treated as criminals for a decision they did not make.
The fear that I allowed to rule me began to dissipate. I would no longer remain silent. I would no longer encourage my brother to take a voluntary departure. It was time to share our story; it was time to speak out, to break the shackles of fear we allowed to enslave us. Only with courage will we have an opportunity to help our community, to ask for accountability, and to point out the discrepancy between politicians’ words and the actions of local governments against undocumented youth.
This is why I am coming out- to share my brother’s story, to share my story, and to be a voice who encourages others to come out of the shadows.
Are you in Charlotte, NC and want to get involved? Are you undocumented and tired of being afraid? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you get started.