Undocumented & Unafraid

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For Edilsa Lopez, an undocumented immigrant born in Guatemala, coming out about her immigration status makes her feel nervous, but she has no fear. “I am undocumented and unafraid,” she states. “With no fault of being here undocumented because I didn’t chose to be here undocumented. Right now, I am a student who has served her community, accomplished a lot, and wants to make a difference wherever she is and however she is. I want to succeed, all I (we) want is an opportunity.”

From March 15 – March 19 2011, National Coming out of the Shadows week was held by DREAMactivists to encourage undocumented youth to come out and tell their friends, family and community that they are undocumented. According to DREAM act advocate, Juan Escalante, the event is held as a “way to encourage the undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and tell their story.”

Many DREAM act supporters are still continuing the fight to convince the U.S. that undocumented youth deserve a chance to become citizens through hard work. This would help thousands of people in the U.S. that live a life of uncertainty.

Edilsa arrived to the U.S. when she was 12 years old without knowing that upon entering this country she would have to face the issue of her immigration status. She was able to go to middle school and high school, learn English and attend the University of Texas at Austin where she is actively pursuing her bachelor’s degree. In college, she is vice president of a student organization and is aware of the events involving undocumented youth on local, state and national levels.

In the same way that the LGBTQ community led by Harvey Milk (politician and LGBTQ advocate) encouraged people to come out of the closet, DREAMers are asking undocumented youth to relinquish their fears and speak openly about their immigration status. The website DREAMActivists.org provides a guide on how undocumented youth can come out. It includes tips like practicing and understanding their rights as well as their commitment to their civic participation like obtaining petition signatures to pass the DREAM act.

To guide undocumented youth to come out, there are specific instructions on how to do so. First, undocumented youth need to determine the level they would like to come out. That means deciding whether you just want to tell one person or have a meeting with few people, a party along several people, a press conference to invite the media or a rally where everyone can participate. Clear instructions for each level are given along with examples.

Most of the time, individuals are happy with telling just their close friends and DREAM act supporters. Coming out sends a powerful message to the community indicating that undocumented youth are tired of living in the shadows feeling powerless against a system that gives them few rights.

The organization also encourages undocumented youth to tell their personal story in their page to empower individuals that are stuck in a tough situation. The website states, “By being more open we will begin replacing fear with courage and, ultimately, be united in our demands for change.”

Facing a difficult period in her life due to the broken immigration laws and without the help of the DREAM act, Edilsa hopes that coming out will help people understand undocumented youth in her situation. “I hope that people can understand me, and can understand us, and help us by supporting us, undocumented students, who have no fault of being here undocumented,” says Edilsa. “I hope that people can help us to call their representatives and senators asking them to not repeal SB1528 or HB1403 (Texas laws that aid undocumented youth), because all we want is to educate ourselves, and contribute to this country in any way, while we make a difference.”

As more and more undocumented youth come out, U.S. citizens can become more aware of their challenges and can support this event and the DREAM act through various ways. Juan suggests, “Understanding the circumstances of their peers that are undocumented. Be their ally; ask questions, actually being a friend to them and help them out when they need help.”

Just as undocumented youth are voicing their concerns, citizens need to also speak out about their opinions. Edilsa encourages youth who want to help undocumented youth apply for citizenship to contact a congressman or woman to change the status quo.

April 2011

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