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VOICES

Immigrant Youth Come Out as Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic

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Rush hour traffic races past an underpass where students hold a candle light vigil in support of the DREAM Act on November 29, 2010, in Carlsbad, Calif.

CREDIT: AP / Lenny Ignelzi

“Without papers, without fear! Immigrants are marching here!” This chant could be heard loud and clear in Chicago’s Daley Plaza, where over a thousand demonstrators gathered to kick off ‘Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic’ Coming Out Week on March 10.

They were joined by a number of youth-led organizations in different parts of the country calling on undocumented young people who have yet to reveal their legal status and “come out,” declaring themselves “unafraid and unapologetic” for being in the country without papers. The DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that proposed giving a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who attended college or joined the military, failed last December, but young people are still fighting for immigrant rights. DREAMers, or young people committed to passing legislation that would allow them to stay in the United States legally, remain committed to state fights for access to education and justice for their communities.

Just this week, Maryland passed a bill approving in-state tuition for undocumented students, and the California DREAM Act— which comes in the form of two bills: one to open institutional aid, the other to open state-based aid—overcame its first hurdle when it got through the committee on higher education in the state assembly.

But while there is some movement toward accepting undocumented immigrants, there are still many young people engaged in battles in states like Florida and Missouri, where a series of bills are flying through state legislatures that would unfairly target immigrant and communities of color. Despite these attacks, DREAMers are coming out, many even before starting college.

Hilda is 18 and in her last semester of high school, only months from graduation. She is one of many young people all over the country proudly proclaiming that she is undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic. She just earned a scholarship to study at a small liberal arts college in Atlanta, about 30 minutes from where she and her family live in Cobb County, Ga.

“I want to study communications, maybe public relations,” she says, though admittedly revealing “that might change.” This year it will be a decade since her family emigrated from their native Brazil to the United States, in search of improved opportunities for work and financial stability.

Hilda’s mother works cleaning houses and her father takes on odd jobs to help support the family. Hilda revealing her status is no small feat, since Georgia has become increasingly hostile to undocumented immigrants. Just last year, the Georgia state legislature voted to bar undocumented students from enrolling in public colleges and universities.

Watch Cindy Come Out as Undocumented

SOURCE: Immigrant Youth Justice League

Hone into to Cobb County, and you’ll find Sheriff Neil Warren boasting about the fact that he was named one of the top ten “toughest immigration sheriffs” in the country by Fox News. The state had already deported 1,400 immigrants since it became first in the state to approve 287(g), a program that allows for state and local authorities to enter in a partnership with Immigrations Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in the detaining and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

As the number of threats against undocumented immigrants mounts higher, why are so many young people come out as undocumented?

“If we’re going to make change, if we’re ever going to pass the DREAM Act, we can’t go back into hiding,” Hilda says, “we have to continue to tell our stories.”

Hilda, like many DREAM activists throughout the country, uses her story as a tool to debunk myths about the politics of immigration.

“Our country and our economy [are] facing challenges, but we can’t solve our problems just by blaming immigrants,” she points, “I feel very American. I want to do whatever I can to give back the country that’s given me so much.”

Eduardo Garcia is advocacy manager at Campus Progress. Follow him @itseddie.

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