Several immigrant youth, who have been leaders in the undocumented youth movement in the United States, have crossed the border into Mexico, and plan to turn themselves in alongside other undocumented youth who left or were deported from the United States at a border crossing. With applications for legal admission in hand, they will demand to be allowed to return home to the United States.
Immigrant youth leaders currently in Mexico include Lizbeth Mateo, Lulu Martinez and Marco Saavedra. Lizbeth grew up in Los Angeles, and she had not seen her family living in Mexico for fifteen years. Lulu Martinez came to the U.S. at the age of three, and has spent years working for immigrant rights and LGBT rights. Marco Saavedra is a poet and a painter. He graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio, and now works at his family’s restaurant in New York City. All of them have been living in the United States since before the age of 16, and would otherwise qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, none of them have been granted DACA, and thus, are most likely inadmissible from the United States.
So why did these leaders take such a big risk in leaving their homes?
The NIYA website reads: “The Obama Administration has created a deportation machine resulting in the destruction of over 1.7 million lives, and the devastating separation of those families by the border. Those 1.7 million people are not lost and forgotten; rather, they are people who deserve to have the choice to return to their home in this country.”
Among these 1.7 million are Adriana, Luis, Maria, Claudia, and Ceferino, all of whom will accompany the trio. They are young people who grew up in the United States only to find themselves forcefully removed to Mexico, while leaving behind families and communities in the United States. All 5 of them will now seek to legally return home.
I’m not as courageous as Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco. I wouldn’t buy a plane ticket to my home country and then ask to be brought back in protest with other deported peoples. What our friends have done is taken an extremely risky course of action — by putting their lives on the line — in order to reunite families.
For years, we have received emails, phone calls, videos from many persons detained and deported by the U.S. government, often for no reason other than the fact that they grew up in this country, were racially profiled, pulled over for driving without a license, sent to jail, detention and then removed. In many instances, such persons had family, legally residing in the United States. In other cases, after waiting for years for relief, individuals left the U.S. in pursuit of a life elsewhere, only to find out that they could not come back legally into the country, even when they exercised proper legal channels.
Last summer, when Lizbeth Mateo first told me about her plans for leaving the country to bring some deportees back through proper channels, I listened, numb at first at the prospect of losing one of my best friends to the other side of the border, a border that I could not cross.
When she finished explaining her course of action, I simply nodded, hoping she would not carry it out, but knowing that she would stop at nothing to do what she felt was just.
“You do what you need to do. We’ll figure out how we can bring you back,” I told her.
Two weeks ago, at my DREAM wedding, my fellow undocuqueer pride, Lulu Martinez, asked me what I thought about the action, because she was considering doing it too. After I told her my thoughts, I watched in awe as she tied up unresolved matters at home, told her parents she was leaving for Mexico, bought a plane ticket and went to Mexico, a country she has not seen in over 20 years.
And then Marco Saavedra, who is currently in removal proceedings, and perhaps one of the most beloved figures in the movement, decided to join them on the other side of the border.
Part of this courage and support for the campaign comes from knowing, as an undocumented person, that you cannot enjoy the freedom to live in the United States, if you don’t have the freedom to leave the United States. Persons who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence are subject to 3 and 10 years bars, and thus, rendered inadmissible. Due to these bars for unlawful presence — which won’t be changed by the current immigration reform legislation — many undocumented youth grow up feeling trapped by borders because we cannot leave our families and simply return to our countries of origin. This is especially hard on persons in mixed-status families. If your grandparents, parents, spouse, siblings and children reside in the United States, stepping out — even to pursue legal means of re-entry — often means never seeing them again, in all likelihood.
Another factor in my support for Bring Them Home is professional responsibility and ethics. I know as a future immigration attorney that if my client wants to fight their case in a certain way, my job is to figure out how to get it done, and not try to talk my client out of it beyond spelling out all the consequences of the action. Anything else is lazy lawyering. You want to self-deport? Alright, no worries, here is what will happen to you if you do. And after giving you a list of the most terrible consequences I can draw up, including death because you are either queer or a member of a persecuted indigenous group in Mexico, if you still want to leave the country, then it is my job to figure out how to bring you back home. Otherwise, I see little point in the expensive law degree on my wall.
Third, my support for the Bring Them Home campaign stems out of being a good ally to the immigrant rights movement. At this point, with my virtually undeportable status, I have to follow the lead of those who are most directly impacted by draconian U.S. immigration laws and policies, and specifically laws that divide families. Knowing that undocumented youth have already changed the course of history and the face of immigrant rights by taking bold risks from sit-ins to stand-ins to infiltrating detention centers, I trust that these “crazy petulant kids” as they are sometimes called pejoratively, know precisely what they are doing.
Additionally, Bring Them Home exposes how both Democrats and Republicans have long held immigration reform hostage to “border security.” As part of the immigration reform package, the U.S. Senate passed the infamous “border surge amendment,” which many immigration advocates have termed as “border overkill” as it mandates $47 billion dollars to go towards 700 miles of border fence construction, 40,000 additional border agents, drones, Blackhawk helicopters and VADER radar systems, before the 11 million can gain citizenship. These border security triggers will make the U.S.-Mexico border the most militarized zone in the world where 7 million U.S. residents will be subjected to living in a war zone. Bring Them Home is an opportunity to stand up and show Congress that our communities should not be subjected to war, that we must resist border militarization, and that we are actually not at war with Mexico.
It would be remiss not to mention that Bring Them Home presents us with another way to approach immigration reform. Perhaps, instead of thinking about giving people papers in order to give them some rights, we should be extending rights to everyone regardless of their immigration status. The brave and courageous actions of our undocumented friends is a crucial pivot from the dying breed and failure of comprehensive immigration reform discourse. It goes beyond the mere rhetoric of creating a “pathway to citizenship” by questioning what citizenship is about and by reuniting families and fueling dreams across borders.
Lulu, Lizbeth and Marco are placing incredibly faith in our laws, in our sense of justice, and in our ability to do the right thing for them and the 1.7 million deported by Obama’s deportation regime. If they fail to make it to the United States, it is not their failure. It is our failure to respect, honor and uphold human life, human rights and dignity, and the joke is on every American who thinks they live in a free country while voicing their support for the empty promise of “immigration reform.” Besides, if we cannot bring 8 people home, through proper legal channels, I am not sure how we can validate or pass immigration reform to legalize 8 million.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support bringing them home because I believe that another world is possible — a world where rights do not stop at borders, and where people are given equal rights under the law even if they find themselves in a place that is not their home.
Here is how you can help:
- Show your support for the action through the Thunderclap before Monday morning.
- Sign petitions to bring home the other dreamers accompanying the trio: Adriana, Luis, Maria, Claudia, Ceferino.
- Reblog and share the videos by Lizbeth Mateo, Marco Saavedra, Lulu Martinez.
- Donate to help Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco as they come out of the shadows at the border with the other dreamers.
- Organize local actions in your communities. More information on this will be forthcoming from The NIYA.
Bringing them home is just a start.
Please note: Nothing in this post denotes legal advice or is offered in substitution of advice from a lawyer. Success is not guaranteed and different people have different results.