Barack Obama's Shame: DREAM Activists Rally Outside Phoenix ICE Office as Part of National Day of Action

Another DREAMer, calling Obama out...
Another DREAMer, calling Obama out...
courtesy of Carmen Cornejo

It can only be described as a massive violation of human rights, what this country has done to deny a future to an entire generation of individuals, who for all intents and purposes are Americans.

I'm talking about the hundreds of thousands of bright, undocumented youth who would qualify for a pathway to legalization under the DREAM Act, individuals whose lives are in limbo and who must deal with the daily risk of arrest and deportation, all because they were brought to the United States while they were young. 

Their predicament should be familiar to all. Indeed, polls consistently show widespread support for the DREAM Act, which would grant some form of legal residency to students brought to the United States from other countries while children. This, if they meet certain requirements, including either going to college or serving in the military.

Heck, even here in the Land Time Forgot, where being brown is an open invite for the cops to hassle you, 73 percent of registered voters approve of the proposed legislation.

But for those of us who do not fret about proving our right to reside in this country, it's easy to forget the unjust circumstances DREAMers have become used to, like living in fear of being stopped by law enforcement, and dealing with the fallout when they are.

Edder Martinez, at yesterday's DREAM demonstration outside the ICE offices in Phoenix
Edder Martinez, at yesterday's DREAM demonstration outside the ICE offices in Phoenix

The hardships DREAMers must endure weighed on me as I talked to about a dozen of them outside the Phoenix offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday. 

Symbolically dressed in graduation garb, they were there as part of a nationwide day of action in support of the proposed law, which remains buried beneath the cynical political calculations of both Republicans and Democrats, including the President of the United States.

Take the experience of Edder Martinez, whom I met at Thursday's event. Martinez, 21, told me that he was born in Mexico City and was brought to the U.S. when he was five. He said he considers himself to be as American as his younger brother who was born in the states. 

 

Yet Martinez's life was upended recently when he was stopped by a transport security guard after he jumped over light rail tracks while crossing the street. When he was asked for his I.D., all Martinez could provide was his matricula consular card, issued by the Mexican consulate.

Martinez had an outstanding warrant on a traffic ticket, which he says he was late in paying. As a consequence, Phoenix police arrested him and he was booked into Fourth Avenue Jail.

"I was interrogated by ICE because of Secure Communities," Martinez told me, referring to the federal program that checks the immigration status of arrestees. "And I was put under an ICE hold."

He was transferred to ICE custody and was soon on a bus to Florence and then to Eloy, where he ultimately spent two months in detention. His parents had to pay $12,500 to get him out on bond. 

"According to ICE, I was actually in detention for entering the country illegally when I was five," he said matter-of-factly.

DREAMer Lorenzo Santillan, who came to the U.S. when he was 3 months old
DREAMer Lorenzo Santillan, who came to the U.S. when he was 3 months old

Martinez's life as been messed with in other ways. Because of Arizona's Prop 300, the 2006 ballot measure that denied in-state tuition to undocumented scholars, it's taking him longer to get through school than normal due to the cost. He says he's studying at Phoenix College and wants to major in business administration.

I asked him if he was angry about his situation, because listening to it made me mad enough to spit. Martinez said no.

"It's really more of a time to commit to action," he explained. "Instead of getting mad or flipping out, I'd rather come here and express myself." 

Lorenzo Santillan was another young man I spoke with. Santillan, 24, graduated from Phoenix College with a degree in culinary studies, despite having to pay out-of-state tuition because of his undocumented status. 

"I'm a pretty good cook," he brags. "I'd like to be a cook in a restaurant, but I'm not able to."

So Santillan works in catering, which comes with its risks. For instance, sometimes he has to drive to get to a client's home, if the bus or the light rail doesn't run close enough.

"I'm actually not fearful of anything," Santillan told me of the possibility of being pulled over and arrested. "If it happens, it happens. I'm not willing to put my life on pause because I'm scared of ICE."

Santillan says he came to this country when he was three months old. Three of his siblings were born here and are American citizens.

Leading the group in the demonstration was Dulce Matuz, chair of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, who is now known to the world as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People."

With the help of private scholarships, Matuz, 27,  overcame the obstacle of Prop 300, and graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in electrical engineering, one she cannot obtain employment with, because she's undocumented.

And yet, Matuz, like many DREAMers, is an extremely positive individual, despite setbacks.

Though in 2010 the DREAM Act had majority approval in both the U.S. House and the Senate, it failed to get past a threatened filibuster by Senate Republicans. 

Therefore, Matuz and her fellow DREAMers want President Obama to grant what's referred to as "categorical relief" to those who would qualify for the proposed DREAM Act. 

She says the so-called "prosecutorial discretion" the administration gave immigration officials last year to review cases on a one-by-one basis is not working. She doesn't buy Obama's contention that he does not have the authority to order categorical relief for DREAMers.

Me and the amazing Dulce Matuz, president of ADAC, and one of the 100 most influential people in the world
Me and the amazing Dulce Matuz, president of ADAC, and one of the 100 most influential people in the world
courtesy of Carmen Cornejo

"It has been proven to him that he has the power to grant categorical relief and pretty much halt the deportation of all DREAMers," she insisted. 

Indeed, many U.S. Senators and Representatives, as well as immigration policy experts argue that the executive branch could go far beyond mere prosecutorial discretion to a deferment of all deportations on DREAMers, if the administration so desired. 

But for Obama, who says he supports the DREAM Act, it's all about self-serving political machinations. His message to Latinos in 2012 remains the same as it was in 2008. That is, "Vote for me, and we'll have comprehensive immigration reform. Promise."

Why anyone would believe the president's promises on immigration at this point is beyond me. He and his advisers are betting that Latinos have nowhere else to go, considering the nativist, anti-Hispanic bent of the Republican Party.

And they may be right, but DREAMers are not relinquishing the fight. They continue to protest in front of ICE offices, as well as push for an end to the 60-vote cloture rule in the Senate, which killed the DREAM Act in 2010. Some are even engaging in daring acts of civil disobedience, risking deportation in the process.

I hope they continue to raise Cain. Because every time they come forward and confront us with their stories, they challenge our consciences and reveal just how un-American a place America can sometimes be.


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