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

Undocumented and afraid, part 1

Students taking in a lecture, October 2007
Students taking in a lecture, October 2007
Photo by Bryan Goseline/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Much has been written lately about the college students who are coming out about their immigration status in support of the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would allow undocumented students like themselves, or those who join the military, a path to legal status if they meet several criteria, including having arrived in the United States as minors under 16.

But for every one of those students, there are are many others who are afraid to come forward.

A couple of months ago, a colleague here at KPCC passed along an e-mail that came in response to immigration-related questions posed via the station's Public Insight Network, a project that gives the public a confidential way to share personal stories related to topics in the news. The e-mail, written by a young man in Claremont, caught my attention: He was a college student who had been here since childhood, he was undocumented, and he felt hopeless.

I contacted him to see if he would share more of his personal story for the Multi-American blog in a Q&A, and he gladly did - but then, after I asked him if it was okay to publish his last name, he asked me to please, please not use his name at all.

In general, news organizations use anonymous sources only sparingly, and only if being identified represents a valid threat to the source. Deportation typically counts as such, but I wondered, with so many other students going public with their undocumented status as they campaign for the DREAM Act, should I just speak to someone else? Or is the fear that is prompting this young man to remain in hiding a part of the story that I would be missing if I passed on him?

It is, and I would be. That point was driven home yesterday, when I caught a post on the Arizona-based advocacy site La Frontera Times by Alfredo Gutiérrez titled "Undocumented and Unafraid" - a popular slogan among DREAM Act supporters - about those who have come out, and those who haven't.

From the post:

I want to share a word about the undocumented and afraid. I suspect that there are many more of them. My great niece came here at seven, graduated from high school with honors, with great ambitions and dreams attended Phoenix College and completed her AA with honors as well and then the dream stalled. The anti-immigrant climate of hate in Arizona suffocated young folks like her. Her brother was deported. The University by law demanded out-of-state tuition from her in order to complete her studies. She waitressed, cleaned houses, married, had a baby and after an Arpaio raid near her home moved to San Francisco.

She is afraid every day that she will be discovered and separated from her baby. She hides. If the Dream Act passes today she will come back to Arizona finish her degree and go on to graduate school and this country will have another Pediatrician. If it fails she will hide.

The wary student in Claremont is one of those "many more" undocumented youths who are still hiding, worried that they or their families might be deported if they reveal their names, but whose personal stories are still worth hearing.

In a forthcoming post, I'll be sharing his story.