Yesterday, on the 56th anniversary of the ruling in Brown v Board of Education, five immigrant youth leaders, four of whom are undocumented, staged a sit-in at the Tucson office of Senator John McCain. They urged him not to allow Arizona to become the standard and to push and act to pass the DREAM Act now. The five youth were joined by other youth and activists who staged a rally and protest outside the office, to the cries of "Education Not Deportation," and "Undocumented and Unafraid!"
But their act of civil disobedience does not stop there. Once the office had closed for the day, the youth refused to leave, so four were arrested on trespassing charges. Due to this action, they face detention by Immigration & Customs Enforcement and possible deportation from a country they have called home for over a decade, or even two.
Senator McCain sent the youth a letter stating he is willing to meet with them to discuss their concerns. They acknowledged the request, but reiterated that a meeting was not enough. While their future is uncertain, they are willing to put everything on the line because their lives, along with the lives of thousands of other undocumented youth, cannot afford to be put on hold any longer. They cannot afford to be ploys in the political games surrounding comprehensive immigration reform. They cannot be asked to wait another year, for that's what they were told last year, and the year before that.
News of the recent passing of two fellow youth leaders and pioneers in the undocumented student movement has only fueled and motivated the group to fight on and face their fears.
Who are these youth? Mo is a co-founder of DreamActivist.org and has been integral in both online and offline organizing of immigrant youth for the last three years. As a queer youth, he can never return to Iran without facing persecution in an overwhelmingly homophobic society. A founding member of Dream Team Los Angeles, Lizbeth has testified both at the California State Capitol and on the Hill. While working through school, which may take her many more years to complete without access to resources or financial aid, Yahaira founded the Kansas-Missouri Dream Act Alliance. Tania holds a bachelor's degree in Sociology and has been fighting for immigrant rights for years, founding the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago.
The four are joined by a youth ally from Arizona, making them the "Dream Act 5."
The biggest question is usually, "Why is this a big deal?" or "If they've been here so long, why can't they just leave and reapply?" But as we will explore further in the coming weeks, the nature of our immigration system is the root problem. These youth, and thousands of youth like them across the country, have no route to legal status; they cannot get in line because there is no line for them. Furthermore, if they did risk leaving, even if there was a means for them to return, they would all be faced with a 10 year bar from the United States.
For someone who is American in every way but a simple piece of paper, what other options are they left with? The Dream Act 5 were tired of having no options and tired of being denied control over their own lives. Their futures are now more uncertain than ever, and highlight exactly why the DREAM Act needs to pass, as a stand-alone bill, not next year, not when the political climate is more accepting, but now.