Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Is 'coming out' undocumented becoming less risky?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A couple of posts last month addressed a strategy that a growing number of undocumented youths have embraced as they campaign for legalization, revealing their immigration status as a political act.

It took off last year as undocumented college students campaigned for the Dream Act, proposed legislation that would have granted conditional legal status to young people brought here illegally as minors if they attended college or joined the military. The bill died in the Senate last December, but students and their supporters have not given up their campaign.

Some perceive "coming out" as equal parts catharsis and political strategy, and see the trend continuing. Here's how Jorge Gutierrez, a young man I spoke with last month, put it when I asked him if he saw revealing immigration status as becoming a cultural norm among his peers:

“I think that definitely, if we find ourselves not getting the Dream Act to come through Congress, I think it has the potential to reach that cultural norm,” he said. “Even though we didn’t pass the Dream Act last year, what the movement was really successful in was getting students to come out all over the nation. It is building critical mass. For lack of a better word, it’s getting in the face of ICE agents and saying ‘arrest me.’”

It's a risky move, with deportation as a possible consequence. But as more young people reveal their status, is there safety in numbers? A story in the Los Angeles Times this weekend took up the "coming out" story in relation to the recent arrests of seven undocumented young demonstrators in Georgia, who were released with misdemeanor tickets for blocking traffic, but no more. From the story:
At an April 1 public forum in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that immigrants who would have benefitted from the Dream Act were "not the priority" when it came to enforcing immigration law.

Well before her comments, administration officials had said they would focus deportation efforts on those who commit serious crimes. But some immigrant rights groups have complained that the administration has been too aggressive in deportations. The Obama administration deported 392,862 people in the last fiscal year, up from 369,221 people deported in the last full year of the Bush administration.

When an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman was asked to comment on the agency's inaction after the Atlanta protests, he simply referred to Napolitano's April 1 comments.

As policy statements go, it is a rather ambiguous one. Does it mean that no Dreamers will be deported? Or that some of them will?


It's a good question. A federal immigration official interviewed for the story declined to elaborate further, anti-illegal immigration activists expressed frustration, and one student organizer quoted took the administration's approach so far as a positive sign, saying "The more out there you are, the more public you are, the safer you really are."

Some students up for deportation in high-profile cases have been given reprieves, but other young people have not. Has revealing immigration status truly become less risky for those who do it?  Feel free to share thoughts below.

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