A group of undocumented youth from across the U.S. spent the past few days in Indianapolis, drumming up support for the path to citizenship that the federal Dream Act could offer young people raised in the U.S. but tagged as foreign.
The group that stopped in Indy is walking across the country encouraging people to support the Dream Act. They also seek to empower other people to shed any stigma and fear of the undocumented status by embracing a motto of "undocumented and unafraid" and by rallying on a civil rights platform, claiming certain self-evident truths about unalienable rights.
NUVO: Who are you?
Jonatan Martinez: We are the Campaign for the American Dream, a group of undocumented students and allies walking across the country for the American Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform.
NUVO: When did you start?
Martinez: March 10 in San Francisco.
NUVO: How did the group get together?
Martinez: We're all from different states. We had eight people originally.
[Martinez, who is from Georgia, sat at the lunch table with Raymi Gutierrez of Salt Lake City, Veronica Gomez of Antioch, Calif., and members of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance and a documentary film crew from LA.]
NUVO: Have you experienced any retribution for stepping out on this issue?
Martinez; Our motto is undocumented and unafraid. We had a little hesitation at first, not knowing what to expect. ...Today is our six-month anniversary!
We are undocumented and we're unashamed about it.
We want this to be an empowering trip. We want other undocumented youth to feel empowered, comfortable and accepted in a community that oppresses them.
Rayme: We've been through California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, and now in Indiana. And we've been to New Mexico. We've been invited off-route — that's how we ended up in New Mexico.
Martinez: It's happened both ways where we go and visit a community, just going to try to empower them, and we receive motivation. A lot of people have supported us. ... It motivates us to keep going all the way until when we reach Washington D.C. We've had a lot more support than negative encounters.
NUVO: So that means you've had some negative encounters?
Martinez: When we first kicked off in San Francisco — we had someone yelling in the audience. ... Also in Salt Lake City at a "coming out of the shadows" event, the first time undocumented youth are saying they're undocumented in front of a capitol building or public event ... A senior in high school, who was going to graduate with an associate's degree before she was even finished with high school because she was that smart, she started talking about how if she were sent back to her home country she wouldn't be able to prevail. Someone shouted rude comments, but when we tried to have face-to-face dialogue, they walk away, they don't have the facts. [We encounter] a little resistance, not much.
NUVO: When do you plan to arrive in D.C.?
Gomez: Nov. 2. We want to have that day be Undocumented Day. We want to encourage communities we weren't able to visit to join us for walking the last 10 miles into D.C. If they can't join, we would love them to have a rally in their home state in solidarity.
NUVO: How is this being funded?
Martinez: We are a grassroots organization. We live off the community. We literally have left our jobs, our homes, our families. The only way we eat is through the community that finances us.
We're hoping it continues for the next two months.
Gutierrez: The Dream Movement and the Undocumented Movement is national. The organizations nationally are helping us to connect. There was a rally here about a deportation case in Florida and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, trying to get him to stop a deportation.
Martinez: The man's name was being deported is Samuel Soto.
NUVO: So the rally connected you to the Campaign for the American Dream?
Emma Hernandez, an IUPUI student with an individualized major focused on arts and communication for social change: I'm with the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance and I submitted a logo design [to the Campaign for the American Dream] ... After that, I keep getting emails about their trips.
Karla Lopez-Owens, an IUPUI student with a civic leadership emphasis in legal studies: It's a national movement — so we all kind connect in that way.
Lupé Pimentel, an Ivy Tech general studies major: After Alabama passed their immigration law, we went down there.
Hernandez: With the Justice League.
NUVO: Is there a specific message any of you want to convey to voters in this election year?
Lopez-Owens: Veto Romney, not the Dream Act.
Martinez: As far as the Campaign for the American Dream, we don't endorse individual candidates, but we are advocating for the Dream Act, and immigration.
I am undocumented, so I don't have power the vote.
NUVO: Anything else you'd like to add?
Martinez: We're also looking for another walker who will join us. We would love someone from Indiana and the city of Indianapolis to join us for last two months.
NUVO: How did your visit go to the Indiana Capitol?
Martinez: We went to the governor's office looking for some information on how they're helping undocumented youth. We kept getting the runaround; no one knew anything about how the state was helping undocumented youth.
NUVO: Would one of you care to describe what it's like to have the duality in your identity in terms of identifying completely as the United States being home, not really knowing anything different, and then having that foreign country play such a significant role, as well?
Pimentel: I didn't know I was undocumented. I found out because I was filling out a 21st Century Scholarship application because I qualified for it. When I got to the line asking for the Social Security number, I asked Mom and she said, "You don't have one."
It's hurtful. I've participated in community service and been involved in the community ... My brother's in the Navy. It's hurtful that you're going to target my family.
I get involved because it's my duty to get involved. I also know it's a life-long struggle.
Martinez: Obama's Deferred Action memorandum would allow undocumented youth from being deported if they qualify ... then issue a five-year work permit. It's a step in the right direction, but it is not the solution to the problem.
... The federal Dream Act, which would allow a pathway to citizenship ... we've been fighting for it since 2001 ... [lawmakers] change it every time they introduce it.
In 2010, it was five votes shy of passing in the Senate ...
[Quick snapshot for the basic Dream Act framework from the Dream Activist website:
Congress has yet to pass the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act has four basic requirements which are:
In recent years, the legislation has required people to be below the age of 30. If you meet the above criteria, once the DREAM Act passes, you will then have six years within which to obtain a two-year college degree or complete two-years of military service. Upon doing all of this you will gain the chance to adjust your conditional permanent residency to U.S. citizenship.]
Martinez: I'm 25. I'd be 35 before I could become a U.S. citizen.
NUVO: So you got the runaround at the state Capitol, huh?
Martinez: We tried to speak with the governor ... then they sent us to the superintendent (Indiana superintendent of public instruction ... because the questions were related to youth services) then to a communications specialist with the Department of Education who did not know anything. In a really short, professional way he said, "Thank you so much. We don't know anything. Have a great day."
We asked when the governor would be in ... He didn't have any business cards. We're going to follow up with his office.