At 11:30 Monday morning, more than 30 young people began to walk across the first bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border entry port in Laredo, Texas.
“Undocumented and unafraid!” the group chanted in unison, alternating between Spanish, the group’s native language, and English, the language that all 30 had learned as children raised in the United States. Ranging between the ages of 13 and 33, everyone in the group had been brought to live in the United States before the age of 16, qualifying them as “Dreamers” under the Dream Act legislation that, if passed, would provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented youths currently living north of the border. Instead, many of these young people had been deported back to Mexico, or they had returned — to attend a funeral for family members, for example — and were then unable to re-enter the United States.
All had been living for at least nine months in Mexico until Monday when, clad in graduation gowns and carrying papers requesting political asylum, they walked back home.
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Yesterday’s public border crossing was the second action in the National Immigrant Youth Alliance’s campaign Bring Them Home. The campaign is appropriately titled, given that all participants had lived a major portion of their lives in the United States and would now qualify for the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action program, if not for their forced departure from the United States. The Deferred Action program, often called DACA, allows people who came to the United States as children to apply for a two-year temporary suspension of deportation, although it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship. Monday’s action was building on the first Dream 9 action, when nine Dreamers crossed into the United States from Mexico in July.
“What politicians don’t understand is that the young people that they so easily deport normally have a hard time assimilating into their countries of origin,” said Itza Hernandez, who was organizing a solidarity action to support the public border crossing. “It’s such a culture shock. They considered the United States their home.”
Since President Obama took office, 1.7 million people have been deported from the United States, more than during any past U.S. presidency. Monday’s action comes as legislation for immigration reform is stalled in the House and migration justice groups are launching escalating actions across the country. A massive coalition of faith leaders, church congregations, labor unions, progressive politicians and business groups are coordinating a national day of action on October 5, which will consist of marches, vigils and rallies in an estimated 36 states. Meanwhile, groups like the National Immigrant Youth Alliance are increasingly taking the immigration reform battle into their own hands, mounting direct actions such as public border crossings and hard-lock blockades of ICE detention centers.
This militancy hasn’t always been welcome by the institutional wings of the movement; when the Alliance launched the first public border crossing in July, many organizations came out publicly in opposition. Some members of Congress even told lead organizers that the tactic could hurt the chances of the House passing meaningful immigration reform.
Adrianna Rodriguez of the Salt Lake Dream Team, however, explains that the more militant actions are necessary to catch the attention of the stalled Congress. “Our politicians have ignored us enough,” she said. “It’s time for something direct, louder and more in their face. It’s the only way they will listen.”
The proposed legislative immigration overhaul itself is highly controversial among migration justice groups, particularly because it would allocate considerable funding to further militarize the border.
As New York City-based migrant justice organizer Denise Romero explained, “Large portions of the immigrant rights movement are dissatisfied with Obama’s administration and … the immigration reform bill.”
As these debates swirl, the Alliance has promised that there will be more border crossings to come, possibly with hundreds of people, in order to protest what many in the movement believe to be the root cause of the problem: the very existence of the border.
Romero, explains, “This action confronts the broken system, the border in itself, while highlighting the urgency of the issue.”
By three in the afternoon, all 30 of the public border crossers were detained and taken into custody. On the Texas side of the border, a crowd had gathered and chanted, “Bring them home!” According to the Alliance’s live stream channel, border patrol officers initially refused to consider the group’s applications for political asylum and humanitarian parole. Yet, with an onslaught of phone calls and signed petitions, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now processing their applications.
As of Tuesday midday, at least one of the border crossers had been released into the United States, according to the Alliance, with others expected to be released throughout the day. The rest were being transferred into different immigration detention centers, with families headed to a family facility and others to a private, for-profit prison in Texas. It is uncertain whether they will ultimately be released into the United States or be deported from the centers back to Mexico. In July, the Dream 9 were imprisoned for weeks in the for-profit prison Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, which is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, before being released into the United States. They are now living in the United States and waiting for an immigration court to hear their asylum case.
Yet, as the group’s journey continues, one thing is certain. Whether or not the group is granted asylum, the migrant justice movement is increasingly articulating a very clear message: Birth place doesn’t determine where home is.