How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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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Is revealing immigration status the new 'coming out?'

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student's shirt at a coming-out event in Orange County, March 10, 2011

What began as a small number of undocumented college students going public with their immigration status in recent years, done as a political act, has developed into a growing movement that embraces a term once synonymous with the gay rights movement: coming out.

During the past week, a national campaign mounted by student immigrant advocacy groups has urged students and other young people to reveal their status. Advocacy sites have solicited coming-out stories via social media and posted them. Student groups around the country have held coming-out events, including one last week in Orange County.

The movement began as a strategy to attach names and faces to the young people affected by the Dream Act, proposed federal legislation that would have granted conditional legal status to undocumented youths brought to this country before age 16 if they went to college, or if they joined the military.

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