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Stepping Forward or Chaining Oneself for Justice

A teachers watches the harrowing effects of families that are torn apart by deportation.

Last semester, the husband of one of my students was deported to Mexico. To see that battle ensue during the school year was not pleasant. I accompanied her to see lawyers that might help, yet in the end, all said he had no chance. He was deported and despite this, this semester, she graduated with honors.

Also, the previous semester, Cynthia Diaz, another one of my students, waged a very public battle to bring her mom back home after seeing her mother deported from their house in Phoenix some three years ago. Her public battle, which included a 6-day fast this semester in front of the White House, resulted in her mom’s return into the country – as a political challenge to the Obama administration – and then her completely unexpected release.

I don’t know if Arizona is different than other states, but in addition to DREAMers that are very public about their battles, there are also many students that come from families of mixed immigration status. In total, 15 of my students revealed to me this past academic year that either now or in the past, they too had to or were currently waging similar battles. If I count students from past years, the number is even higher. I still remember one student whose father was deported while she was still an undergraduate student at the U of A. The other day, she received her Master’s degree.

And we expect them to study and do their homework?

For many, their homework consists of driving to Phoenix to immigration court to fight for themselves or their families. Last semester, one of my students had to do this and her father did win a reprieve. In fact, he now has legal status. For the first student mentioned, her homework was going to Mexico to look for housing for her deported husband. For Cynthia, it consisted of a 3-year campaign throughout Arizona and then the nation that indeed culminated in victory – though her case is not yet settled. For the student that just earned her masters, it was friends and fellow students showing up to federal court in Tucson to show moral support for her father.

Currently, one student learned near the end of the school year that her father had been given 30 days to be deported. And she was supposed to concentrate on her final research papers and finals?
Oh… these students do come through. They are brilliant and they are fighters. Some even get awards. But does that fix the anguish? Does it make the rage go away?
More than once I’ve developed that same rage as a result of having to see my students go to court. I’ve seen some of them risk arrest several times. Talk about courage, they took part in the October uprising (Oct 8-16) here in Arizona. This included October 8 in Tucson when the community had enough of the poli-migra stops. And it wasn’t just then. During the Operation Streamline shutdown of October 11 – that too took a lot of courage. Several were my students. And then other times, they also risked arrest going to Operation Streamline itself.

That they are dehumanized is a given. Yet, their courage and their determination is often measureless. And here, I’m not even talking about DREAMers who first made a heroic stance in 2010 at Sen. John McCain’s office, unmasking themselves and risking their liberty so that the whole world could know they would no longer be hiding. They were taken into custody, but then released. That’s a large reason why DREAMers are very public in their battles. They earned that right.

Beyond the protesting – it has also been awesome to see the development of Scholarship A-Z in Tucson, led by and comprised of DREAMers who want to continue in their studies. It was at one of their events in the fall that was the spark for a campaign that resulted in the overturning of a 37-year anti-DREAMer policy by the national Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Due to a national petition drive, DREAM students nationwide are now eligible for HSF scholarships – an entity that had previously disbursed some $400 million to students, but not DREAMers.

So yes, there’s hope. But more than hope, sometimes it requires stepping forward. Or sometimes lying down. Or chaining oneself to a bus, a gate, a courtroom or a school board room.

Those are my students. Wish they didn’t have to go through this, but when called upon, they do step forward.

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