Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Immigrant youth declare: ’Undocumented, unafraid’

By Dianne Mathiowetz
Published Apr 14, 2011 11:07 PM

Hundreds of students from nearby Georgia State University, area high school youth, civil rights leaders and community members gathered in Hurt Park April 5 in Atlanta and listened attentively to the stories of eight young people from Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois who proclaimed that they were coming out of the shadows to openly fight for their rights as human beings. All of them have grown up in the U.S., brought by their parents — seeking relief from conditions of extreme poverty in their home countries and a better life for their children — who have worked for years in this country.

The students wept as they described the fear that they or their parents would be deported — a fear that constantly rules their lives. They spoke about how well they did in school and their dreams of making a contribution to their community as a lawyer, a teacher, a social worker.

The youths talked about all their efforts to win passage of the DREAM Act, which failed to pass in Congress last year. That legislation would have offered tens of thousands of undocumented youth a path to citizenship. They all declared that they were not going to be silent as elected officials use them as political pawns to curry favor with right-wing forces. Before the TV cameras and police agencies, to the roar of approval from their supporters, they declared they were “undocumented and unafraid.” One of the goals of the action was to call upon the president of Georgia State University, Mark Becker, to refuse to comply with a Board of Regents’ ban on admitting qualified undocumented youth to study at the institution. Earlier this year, the governing body of Georgia’s public universities, colleges and technical schools capitulated to anti-immigrant pressure and barred undocumented students from the state’s top five public institutions of higher education, including GSU.

These students already have to pay out-of-state tuition, which is almost triple that paid by fellow high school graduates. They are also not eligible for the HOPE scholarship program. Georgia also denies a driver’s license to anyone who does not have papers. Just days before this action, upwards of 8,000 people packed the street in front of the Georgia Capitol to oppose an Arizona SB 1070-style racial profiling law that is pending final passage in the Assembly. Pressure against the anti-immigrant legislation has come from diverse forces, including business interests, religious groups, civil rights organizations and foreign trade leaders, warning that Georgia will become the target of a boycott.

Sit-in demands ‘education, not deportation’

After delivering a letter to Becker’s office, the protesters marched around the campus, chanting “Education, not deportation” and “Refuse the ban.” In a synchronized action, they placed huge banners, reading “We will no longer remain in the shadows” and “Will you take a stand?” in the middle of a highly trafficked street, leading to the State Capitol, and sat down. Cars came to a halt; the area was filled with chanting students, TV cameras, photographers and eventually police.

After more than an hour and a great deal of discussion among the several police forces, including campus and Capitol agencies, members of the Atlanta Police Department arrested seven young people to the boos and cries of “shame” from the crowd. Each of these seven youth face the possibility of being deported as a result of their arrest. Held in the Atlanta City Jail overnight on charges of obstructing traffic, they were all questioned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement about their citizenship but were not turned over to the federal agents. On the morning of April 6, they all were released on $2,000 bonds. Taking a page from the student actions of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, there are plans to commit similar acts of civil disobedience in other cities to focus attention on the injustice of immigration policies that criminalize workers, deny young people opportunity, separate families and promote racial profiling. For more information, go to

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