Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Coming out undocumented: A growing movement, but still contentious (Audio)

A student activist's t-shirt at a
A student activist's t-shirt at a "coming out" event in Orange County, Calif., March 2011
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

The act of "coming out" as undocumented to make a political statement has gained traction in recent years among young immigrant activists, many of them college students or graduates who were brought to the United States illegally as children and have never been able to adjust their immigration status.

For those involved in a growing movement that has become a rite of passage for many, there is the perception of strength in numbers. But does this make going public with one's immigration status a wise thing to do? Has it become any safer? And for those who aren't familiar with the movement, what reactions does it elicit?

Today, at the tail end of what's become known "National Coming Out of the Shadows Week," KPCC's Patt Morrisson Show addressed these and other questions in a segment; I joined Patt as a guest, along with immigration attorney and political science professor Louis A. Gordon and two young people who have both "come out," Nancy Meza and John Perez.

Meza and Perez, both 24, have been in the United States since they were small children, and spoke of feeling empowered by choosing not to stay silent for fear of deportation. Gordon spoke of the legal risks involved in going public, along with the frustration of being unable to become a citizen, after growing up American, that drives some young people to take the risk anyway.

Among the listeners who shared their thoughts were a couple of immigrants who believed that revealing one's immigration remains far too risky, in spite of recent policy changes. Many others have posted their opinions on the segment page, which poses these questions:

If you are undocumented, how do you feel about this movement? Has a friend or co-worker surprised you by telling you that he or she is in the country illegally? Should youth who were involuntarily brought to the United States be given a break and allowed to become citizens? Is the United States too harsh with its immigration policies or not harsh enough?

Listeners' comments have been all over the map so far, but here are a few highlights. Alex wrote:
An argument can be made for both sides on
how to address our resident Illegal Immigrant issue.  Should we have
Illegal Aliens living in this country, no!  Can we realistically just
deport over 12 million Illegal Aliens overnight, no!

It’s taken decades of negligence and
incompetence from both the Democrats and Republicans get us where we are; and
now too many of the proposed solutions are simply attempts to buy votes.

Ben Johnson wrote:
This topic tugs at your heart strings but it is a double edged sword and strikes at an issue of fairness. Citizens and other legal immigrants who paid or are paying their dues are faced with high taxes paying for services they do not use that many undocumented take for granted.

Tomás Summers Sandoval wrote:

Undocumented immigrants come to this country because our economy not only desires them but actually maintains access to them via our current immigration policy--one which is purposefully geared to NOT provide a legal means of entry for most. As workers their value is in the ability of our economy to abuse them through poor work conditions and underpayment.  A pathway to legality is not only good policy, it is a MORAL one.

And Jaja Azikiwe wrote:

I don't want to turn this into a race card issue, but black folks waited 400 years for fair representation and even today there are issues, AND WE WERE NOT HERE ILLEGALLY! Don't they get it: THEY BROKE AND ARE BREAKING THE LAW!!!

Care to join the conversation? Post your thoughts below, or on the Patt Morrisson Show segment page at