In 2010 and earlier, many undocumented Americans came out of the shadows in support of the DREAM Act. These DREAMers told their high schools that they are American but are undocumented. They told their communities and their elected officials that they have dreams of going to college and serving in the military but that they are not able to pursue their dreams because they lack a social security number. They were undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic. They knew that if they remained in the shadows then nothing would change. They would live in fear, and political pundits would continue to refer to them as “illegals” and “criminals.” People would continue to hate them without knowing them. They knew that they had to come out of the shadows so that they they could reclaim their identity- so that people could see them as they see themselves, good people. The DREAM Act failed by a few votes and Obama had this to say:
Maybe my biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote. You know, I get letters from kids all across the country — came here when they were five, came here when they were eight; their parents were undocumented. The kids didn’t know — kids are going to school like any other American kid, they’re growing up, they’re playing football, they’re going to class, they’re dreaming about college. And suddenly they come to 18, 19 years old and they realize even though I feel American, I am an American, the law doesn’t recognize me as an American. I’m willing to serve my country, I’m willing to fight for this country, I want to go to college and better myself — and I’m at risk of deportation.
And it is heartbreaking. That can’t be who we are, to have kids — our kids, classmates of our children — who are suddenly under this shadow of fear through no fault of their own. They didn’t break a law — they were kids. […]
And so I’m going to go back at it and I’m going to engage in Republicans who, I think, some of them, in their heart of hearts, know it’s the right thing to do, but they think the politics is tough for them. Well, that may mean that we’ve got to change the politics. And I’ve got to spend some time talking to the American people, and others have to spend time talking to the American people, because I think that if the American people knew any of these kids — they probably do, they just may not know their status — they’d say, of course we want you. That’s who we are. That’s the better angels of our nature. […]
I think that it is absolutely appropriate for the American people to expect that we don’t have porous borders and anybody can come in here any time. That is entirely legitimate. But I also think about those kids. And I want to do right by them, and I think the country is going to want to do right by them, as well.
Obama’s words are supportive, but his actions and America’s realities have not been. He waited until June 2011 to issue a memo to ICE that called for prosecutorial discretion- focusing on high priority individuals for deportation, not DREAMers and non-criminals.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has declared its goal of deporting 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year. To do this, they have over 5 billion dollars a year at their disposal along with Secure Communities, a program that allows them to view the records of local criminal justice systems across the country. ICE was established in 2003 under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which was a response to the events of 9/11 and is supposed to be protecting the country from terrorists and criminals. However, it cannot deport 400,000 people annually if it only targets these groups, so ICE has continued to deport children, students, mothers, fathers, veterans, and other groups- going against Obama’s memo. In fact 70 to 75 percent of the 400,000 people being deported annually have not been convicted of any serious crimes, leading ICE to promise to review over 300,000 pending cases. Meanwhile, ICE is terrorizing the lives of the 4.5 million U.S. citizen children for whom either one or both of their parents are undocumented. These mixed-status families are especially vulnerable to being torn apart by deportation.
9 DREAMers were among the 13 arrested in a Dream Activist protest in Montgomery last week. They are all undocumented and decided to protest HB56 and their criminalization by publicly being arrested. They were released within two days. Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange has said that he was informed by ICE that they were actually legal residents. This is not the case, but it does show that ICE does not want to pick on DREAMers in public. Dream Activist knew this, but they also knew that that DREAMers were still facing deportation because ICE had arrested them privately, when the community and the media wasn’t watching. Dream Activist has documented ICE’s opposing practices.
The week before the public protests, Dream Activist had two undocumented, DREAM Act-eligible immigrant activists present themselves to immigration agents in Mobile, Alabama. They were subsequently put in detention and placed in deportation proceedings.
“We want to reveal the truth and show [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] for what they really are, as a rogue agency which has no accountability while they separate families,” Jonathan Perez, a 24-year-old activist from Los Angeles told Colorlines.com from the South Louisiana Correctional Center, where Perez and 20-year-old Isaac Barrera had been transferred.
The lesson, they believe, is that undocumented immigrants are safer when they come forward and organize instead of cowering in the shadows. It’s there that ICE does most of its enforcement work, they say. It’s there where it’s impossible to hold them accountable.
“We need to stand up and eliminate the fear and fight the anti-immigrant laws that are terrorizing our communities,” Barrera said over the phone.
“I want lawmakers to look at the face of the ‘illegal,’ as we’re called. Get to know these people,” Barrera said. “I love the trees, and the sky and animals and plants just like you do. I’m a human being too.”