Yes, there is power in masses, but there is also power in a small group of deeply committed and caring activists. Yesterday the Youth Leadership Council in conjunction with several dream teams at universities throughout NYC held a mock election/ rally outside of the CUNY Graduate Center. For the day the center was a polling station for NYC’s mayoral and city council elections. We took the opportunity to have our voices heard by the public and voters who hopefully were a little more politically conscious than usual. 25 youth stood in a human chain on the sidewalk surrounding the “people’s podium”, a symbolic cardboard platform. Undocumented students and allies spoke out about why passing the NY Dream Act in 2014 is urgent.
I stood in the human chain as an ally, a student, and a U.S. citizen. Access to education is a universal human right that cannot continue to be denied to millions of youth throughout the nation. The movement of the DREAMers is extremely inspiring. I stand up with undocumented youth because my own privilege is not a reflection of my accomplishments or of my character. My privilege is simply luck of the draw. I was born in the U.S. while my cousins, who I consider my brothers, moved to the U.S. as children because their parents wanted what was best for their futures. I grew up with my cousins, knowing very well the difficulties they faced. I tried my best to hide my privilege. They carried their parent’s financial burden from age 8 on and as soon as they learned English they carried their parent’s cultural barriers, acting as translators, interpreters, and guides to help them navigate a new home. How is it possible I live such a different life from my own brothers simply because of being in the U.S. a few years prior to them, a decision neither them nor I had any control over?
While I harbored guilt about my privilege, my brothers harbored resentment towards their parents for subjecting them to a displaced childhood without a firm sense of belonging. Today, they no longer live in perpetual fear and I am no longer paralyzed by guilt. We don’t choose where we’re born, whom we are born to, and the situations we are born into. All we can do is to stand in solidarity with one another. My efforts in the YLC and the NYU Dream Team are in solidarity with my brothers, friends, and extended family whose realities could have easily been my own.
Last Wednesday I went on a day-long hunger strike in solidarity with the Dream 30, a group of 30 DREAMers ages 13-33 and 4 parents who were put in a detention center in Texas. The DREAMers are undocumented youth who had lived in the U.S. the majority of their lives but had to return to their native countries because of emergencies or because they could no longer stand to live undocumented. September 30th they stood at the border port of entry in Nuevo Laredo on the U.S.-Mexico border. They risked their futures to send a message: we can’t wait any longer. No human is illegal. I am as much of an American as any citizen.
When hearing about the Dream 30’s stories of bravery and immense courage I was frustrated and felt powerless. I called Senator Menendez and Senator Durbin encouraging them to follow through on their beliefs. Both Senators are proponents of immigration reform, however they hadn’t spoken out in support of the Dream 30. On October 25, the 24 remaining detainees went on a hunger strike to demand that Senator Menendez take a stand supporting their release. Dream Activist, a network of undocumented activists that support the Dream 30, asked allies to go on a day-long hunger strike. The hunger I felt last Wednesday cannot be compared to the 5-day hunger strike of the Dream 30 detainees nor can it compare to the struggle endured by millions of undocumented youth and families everyday. My hunger strike was my small contribution to raise awareness about immigration and the bravery and strength of the Dream 30 and countless other undocumented activists.
Last Thursday 11 of the Dream 30 were released from the detention center and on Friday 5 more were released. They travelled to Washington, D.C. to fight for the release of the remaining Dream 30 detainees in the offices of Congressman Joaquin Castro, Ed Pastor, Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, Senator Dick Durbin & Senator Menendez. The relentless courage of the Dream 30 and their families has made a difference, but the fight isn’t over. There have been arrests and deportations of the Dream 30 almost everyday this week. Marco was arrested at Senator Ruben Hinojosa’s office and Marcela and Jesus were arrested at Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez’s office. Rocio was deported last week, Brandon was deported yesterday, and Karen is facing deportation at the end of this week.
11 million undocumented U.S. residents are continuously oppressed by U.S. systems and violent ideologies; this is not a democracy. Spaces are democratic when citizens are actively participating. Spaces are democratic when citizens share the same access to rights and the same vulnerability to sacrifice. Let’s strive to be a community and citizen driven democracy.
Call Washington D.C. ICE @ 202-732-3000
Call Washington ICE @ 202-732-3100
Call Rep. Cuellar @ (202) 225-1640
Say something along the lines of: “Hi, I was calling to ask that the Dream 30 be allowed to come home to their families. All 30 have grown up here. They are not a flight risk, they should be allowed to come home to their families in the U.S.”
[Script provided by Dream Activist at dreamactivist.org]
Alexa Schaeffer is a senior at NYU Gallatin studying art activism and public policy with a focus on Latin America. She hopes her post-grad future involves her passions: urban farming, art making, and traveling.