How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Posts of the week: Shahs of Sunset, a 'civil detention center,' coming out undocumented, when people of color go missing, more

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

The past week brought us an ethnic reality TV show that had some readers fuming, a "civil detention center" for immigrants in Texas and a growing movement of undocumented young people going public with their immigration status, among other things.

In case you missed any of the week's highlights, here are a few:

Monday

See 'Shahs of Sunset?' Share your thoughts The controversial Bravo reality show that debuted last Sunday has been infuriating many Iranian Americans. The show is the latest of a series of ethnic reality series similar to "Jersey Shore," following six wealthy Iranian Americans in and around Beverly Hills. The cast members' flashy lifestyles depicted on the show have offended viewers who say the show promotes negative stereotypes. Comments posted by several readers - including a few who defended the show - were posted in a follow-up.

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

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt at a "coming out" event in Orange County, Calif., March 2011

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.

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Coming out undocumented: How much of a political effect has the movement had?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

It's been two years since a group of young people in Chicago made official a movement that had been slowly growing among undocumented students, holding a "coming out" day at a local park to go public with their undocumented status as a political act.

In that time - mostly during the last year - the larger movement they launched has taken off exponentially. It received perhaps its biggest boost last June, when former Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas confessed to his undocumented status in a New York Times essay and launched an advocacy project, drawing worldwide attention.

Much else has happened in the last year: Last summer, the Obama administration released guidelines urging immigration officials to use prosecutorial discretion when pursuing deportation cases. This involved giving special consideration to certain immigrants, including people who had been here since they were children, a demographic that makes up the bulk of the young activists involved in the coming-out movement. In August, the guidelines became the backbone of an Obama administration plan to review some 300,000 deportation cases to screen out these "low priority" immigrants, a process that began late last year.

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The top five immigration stories of 2011

During the past week, Multi-American has been counting down the biggest and most influential immigration stories of 2011. That's not to say there were only five: It's been a major year for stories related to the immigration debate, especially as the battleground has shifted to the states, record deportations have continued, and the Obama administration's expansion of federal-local partnerships such as the Secure Communities fingerprint sharing program continues to draw controversy.

Stories that didn't make the list are also worth mentioning, among them the passage of state tuition-aid bills for undocumented students like the California Dream Act and the continued steep drop in illegal border crossings - even as illegal immigration remains a popular talking point for candidates seeking the presidency in 2012. Here are M-A's choices for top stories of the year.

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Top five immigration stories of 2011, #5: 'Coming out' undocumented

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

This week, Multi-American is counting down its top five immigration stories of 2011. It's been a tough list to narrow down with so many major stories this year, ranging from the political battle over birthright citizenship early in the year to the ongoing record deportations to the growing number of state immigration laws, a story that's still developing as a case involving Arizona's precedent-setting SB 1070 heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.

We'll start out today with one story that didn't come out of government, though, but rather bubbled up slowly from college campuses and gained steam via social media: the trend of "coming out" as undocumented among young people, done as a political act.

What began a few years ago among a small number of undocumented student activists has developed into a movement its own right. By December of last year, growing numbers of young, undocumented college students and their supporters were publicly revealing their status as a previous version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would grant conditional legal status to young people who arrived before age 16 if they went to college or joined the military, moved through the House and on to the Senate.

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