On Monday July 22nd, nine DREAMers, six of whom had been previously deported or had been forced to leave the United States, presented themselves at the Nogales [AZ] port of entry demanding to re-enter the United States on humanitarian parole. Three of the participants had returned to Mexico just a week prior as an act of solidarity with the 1.7 million people deported by the Obama administration.
Many have asked why would undocumented immigrants put themselves at such great risk? What is the point of needlessly exposing themselves to border patrol? On what grounds can they claim humanitarian parole? In the first “Bring Them Home” video released by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) Lizbeth Mateo, an undocumented immigration activist, brilliantly explains, “Many of you might think I’m crazy for doing this, but I think it’s crazier that I have not seen my family in 15 years.”
As an undocumented immigrant, I could not agree more. I have not seen members of my family in 25 years. I have no memory of my extended family and no idea what some of my aunties, uncles and cousins look like. I cannot speak the only language that ties me to my grandmother. Pieces of my history, my culture, my heritage have been completely taken away from me and I will never get them back. Quite frankly, the situation has become so desperate and so dire that only drastic action can begin to shift the conversation on immigration reform back to where it needs to be.
None of the immigration reform bills in their current forms truly addresses family separation. In fact, the Senate bill for immigration reform (S.744) prioritizes “high-skilled” visas over family reunification and includes a “border surge” amendment that will militarize the U.S-Mexico border in unprecedented ways. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says this bill will make the border the “most militarized border since the Berlin Wall.” Most importantly, S.744 does not include provisions that will allow those who left the United States out of a sense fear to return. After living under Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070, Adriana Gil Diaz decided to leave country just months before Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced by President Obama. By crossing back into the United States, these nine DREAMers have chosen to confront federal laws head-on by openly defying immigration policy.
Upon entry into the United States, the nine DREAMers, now known as the Dream 9, were placed into Florence Detention Center and later moved to Eloy Detention Center. The Dream 9 have already begun to uncover stories of people being detained for years. One 60 year old woman from the Dominican Republic has been detained in Eloy for the last two years. Another detainee has told stories of people either dying from incorrect medication or committing suicide out of a sense of hopelessness. Once the Dream 9 began to gather these stories, their phone access was restricted by officials. Immediately, the nine DREAMers went on a hunger strike, demanding phone access to be fully restored. In an act of retaliation, six of the Dream 9 were placed into solitary confinement, further exposing them to the extreme punitive practices used within the immigration detention system. It is heart wrenching to think that Lizbeth, an amazing friend who has taken me under her wing for the last year, is in solitary confinement for no other reason than daring and choosing to be free, for saying “enough!” to immigration laws that attempt to dictate how much of her human dignity she is allowed.
Fortunately, support for the Dream 9 is growing. A congressional letter led by Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) and signed by 34 members of Congress has been sent to President Obama urging the release of all members of the Dream 9. It reads:
Our broken immigration policy has separated millions of families, like the families of Lizbeth and Adriana. We have faith that our immigration system can be reformed to respect the humanity and dignity of immigrant families, and we believe that returning these courageous young people to their homes is an important first step that we can take today.
I am humbled by each and every one of these activists. It takes monumental courage to stand up to a government that wants to strip our community of every bit of its humanity, to a Congress that can only think of our existence as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, to an administration that tokenizes DREAMers in one instance, but deports and separates families in the next. Most importantly, it takes an incredible faith to place yourself into the belly of the beast trusting that the community will get you out of one of the worst and most notorious detention centers in the country. Join me in calling the Obama administration to release the Dream 9 today immediately.