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At DREAMers’ Graduation, Talk of SB1070, ‘Deferred’ Deportation, and Defining Struggle [PHOTOS]

Energized, raucous and tired from their travels, immigration activists from more than a dozen states streamed into Washington's Lutheran Church of the Reformation last Wednesday attend a day-long DREAMer graduation ceremony organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, and to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona law SB1070. The ruling, issued last Monday, shot down three of the bill's four directives but maintained the most controversial one: the "papers please" provision, which empowers local law enforcement to stop anyone they reasonably suspect of being an undocumented immigrant.

Immigration and civil rights activists have argued that the way in which an officer would come to ‘reasonably suspect’ is almost inevitably going to incorporate racial profiling, meaning that any people of color in the state could be vulnerable. Hinting some level of concurrence, the Supreme Court left open the possibility of investigating the provision on discrimination grounds once it is implemented.

Activists at the graduation ceremony explained that while the ruling on SB1070 does not affect the Obama administration's new policy of deferring deportation for DREAM-eligible undocumented youth while permitting them work authorization, many DREAMers are still wary for their families and mixed-status communities.

“An attack on the undocumented community in Arizona is an attack on the undocumented community of the whole country,” said the emcee, 21-year-old North Carolina DREAMer Cynthia Martinez.

Her audience, much of which travelled for a number of hour to come make a stand in the nation's capital, largely concurred.

“My parents are pretty nervous [that I’m here], but you’ve got to come here to try,” said Kezya Navarro, an undocumented high school senior who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey. Surrounded by a gaggle of other, mostly younger students from her high school, Navarro told Campus Progress that she decided to make the trek to D.C. after becoming involved with the Mexican-American Coalition, a national umbrella organization that encompasses 500 grassroots movements.

Navarro said she became passionate about immigration reform when she was in the 7th grade, after a friend and classmate of hers–a straight-A student– was deported.

“I really think it’s unfair that we’re being judged for a decision we couldn’t make because we were too little,” Navarro said, adding that she often worried that she and her parents might be deported and be forced to leave behind her younger brother, an American citizen.

After President Obama’s immigration policy shift, Navarro, at least for now, will not face deportation proceedings unless she commits a crime. But her parents’ situation remains uncertain. 

On the flip-side, concern about the DREAM Act can rally families to act together. Carmen Guerrero, an undocumented single mother from Pennsylvania who is a community organizer, said she told her three daughters about the “problem” undocumented immigrants face in 2006, during a lobbying session for the DREAM Act.

“They should know how to fight for their rights,” she explained to Campus Progress. Guerrero added that Pennsylvania's proposed anti-immigration laws took their lead from the Arizona legislation, which now threatens tearing her family apart.

That fight will not end, said Virginian high-schooler Diana, until DREAMers are understood by America as a whole.

Navarro speculated that not all young people are willing to join the struggle to stabilize the situation for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, because of the anxiety that comes with “putting their name on something.” She emphasized that key to winning, however, was to keep the movement going.

“We’ve made small victories,” Martinez said, referring to the Obama announcement. “But we need to continue empowering each other.”

Attendees at the ceremony did just that, infectious energy driving chants of DREAMer mottos in English and in Spanish and the hoisting of signs with strong messages to politicians.

“I think they’re really effective [with their activism] because they don’t do it in a manner that’s aggressive,” Navarro said. “They’re civil.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told the DREAMers and their allies that he believes the struggle of undocumented immigrants will define America’s place in the coming years, and sees their efforts as part of “mak[ing] this nation of ours more perfect.”

“This nation is not about making a group of people less than someone else,” Grijalva said. “You’re making a statement not just for yourselves but for all of us.”

Meanwhile, the ceremony’s commencement speaker, George Washington University law student Prerna Lal, who is a Bay Area DREAM Act leader and a co-founder of DreamActivist.org, encouraged DREAMers to continue pushing for long-term, comprehensive reform, even as she joked about going on hunger strike for 2 weeks without losing any weight.

Lal, who is currently in deportation proceedings, emphasized that she is “unafraid.” She told DREAMers that their opponents are nervous about “anyone who can fight back” – so they should seize the moment.

“We have yet to achieve our goal of open borders, not just for corporations, but for people,” Lal said.

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