How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More Dream Act students prepare to 'come out'

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Student Dream Act supporters react after the Senate vote tally is read, December 18, 2010

This week, some undocumented students, graduates and others are expected to reprise the actions of other student activists last year with a risky move: going public with their immigration status.

The strategy gained popularity last year among young supporters of the Dream Act, proposed legislation that would have granted conditional legal status to qualifying young people who attend college or join the military. The measure cleared the House last December, but failed to make it through the Senate.

This year, several Dream Act advocacy groups and websites have been promoting what's being called "National Coming Out of the Shadows" week between March 14-21, kicking off with a "coming out" day this Thursday, March 10. Sites like DreamActivist.org have been seeking coming-out stories via Twitter and posting them. From one posted today:

My name is Liliana and I am 29 years old. I came to this country from Mexico in 1996 when I was only 14 years old. Without speaking a word of English my parents enrolled me in a public school in Los Angeles where I started taking ESL courses as well as remedial classes. The remedial courses were not right not because of my academic level but because I wasn’t fluent in English. By 10th grade I was already out of ESL and enrolled in English Honors, by 11th and 12th I was taking AP courses in many subjects including English Literature and was entered into the “Gifted Student” program at school.

The young woman writes that she went on to work nights while attending Cal State Northridge, eventually transferring to Florida International University, graduating and landing a job with a European company that began sponsoring her in 2005, but that she has still not been approved for a green card. She writes that she has been offered relocation to Switzerland, "But funny enough, my dream is to stay in this country that I love so much and that I consider my own too!"

National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a network of campus-based student and other groups, has posted a coming-out guide. The idea behind the strategy, as it was last year, is to put a human face to the undocumented youths who arrived here as minors and would be eligible for the Dream Act if it is reintroduced.

Not all those posting comments on the advocacy sites are in agreement, though. LocoFeminist posted in NIYA's comments section:

I’m undocumented and feel like you all are policing what it means to be active in the struggle for equal rights. Which is to say that it us discrediting my power and self determination simply because I chose to not speak about my status. That is dangerous rhetoric that not only crosses into what one is fighting against but one that is actively alienating allies.

Borrowing from the gay rights movement (a related post on DreamActivist.org last year quoted Harvey Milk), undocumented students and graduates around the country went public with their immigration status last year as part of the biggest push for the decade-old Dream Act to date. Some included high-profile student leaders, among them CSU Fresno student body president Pedro Ramirez, who admitted to his status after he was questioned by the student newspaper.

But in the months since the Dream Act failed, some of those who went public have become worried about their future here now that their status is no longer secret.

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