Turnstyle on Friday, Jun. 15th
The millions of young people celebrating President Obama’s immigration announcement this morning include the digital activists who, under the broad canopy of the “Dreamers,” launched dynamic social media campaigns to advocate for undocumented youth.
His speech on the matter (streaming live at the time of this post) says he asked his administration to change his immigration policy ”to make it more fair, more efficient, and more just…specifically for certain young people sometimes called Dreamers…They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one — on paper.”
He clarified that the policy to decline to deport undocumented youth brought here as children is not amnesty.
Check out Turnstyle’s coverage of some of the young activists who’ve comprised this movement. And Turnstyle contributor Favianna Rodriguez is live Tweeting this morning’s events.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Tuesday, Feb. 14th
The Campaign for an American Dream is organizing a cross-country march, that will send four walkers, who are all undocumented and living in the United States, from San Francisco, Ca to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about immigrants’ rights. They’ll be stopping in 200 communities holding various events and rallies, and plan to arrive in D.C. in late October, 2012.
I spoke with 25-year-oldNicolas Gonzalez, one of the four walkers. He came from Mexico to the U.S. with his mom and older sister in 1992. When they arrived, they moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he’s been living ever since. Gonzalez is an immigration activist and shared with us his story and motivation for embarking on this trek.
Turnstyle: Describe your experience growing up in Illinois.
Nicolas Gonzales: When I was 12, my mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is something that really impacted me and my family. When I was 18, it spread, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer. My mom wasn’t working anymore and my sister wasn’t living with us.
I dropped out of high school and began working. My mom needed that support. My dad had to work to pay for the house, to pay the bills.
My mom passed away two years ago on January 23, 2010. It was the hardest year for me. I saw my mom going to the public hospital, along with many other immigrant women; they would have to sit around and wait for treatment, and switch doctors. I was the one who knew what medication she was taking, who her doctors were, translating for her.
Turnstyle: How did your mom’s sickness impact the work you’re doing now?
NG: My mom died in this country of freedom where she was considered a criminal. It didn’t seem right, and I needed to do something about it. [Me and some other youth] were really tired of living in fear. We said, ‘how can we challenge the system?’
I became part of a group called the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago. When March came around, we had already started organizing an immigrant rights march.
We decided to have an event called a “Coming Out of the Shadows” day on March 10 in Chicago. We went against politicians, organizations, and older activists, saying we want to take the stage and declare our undocumented status. We were tired of people speaking for us. We have a voice. Eight of us went on stage; we told our stories.
Turnstyle: When did you find out, or really notice the impact of being undocumented?
NG: I was 15 or 16 when I realized I didn’t have [a] Social Security number. I wasn’t able to go to [any] summer programs that they offer to students. I was always doing volunteer work because I couldn’t get paid. Everyone else my age was getting paid, but I wasn’t, for doing the same or even more work. That’s when I realized [life] was going to start getting tougher. My parents told me get work, start working.
But [being undocumented] didn’t hold me back. I was always volunteering everywhere. Sometimes they would pay me with gift certificates to Target or to Starbucks; that’s how they would pay me.
My education was through other means, not necessarily by institutionalized ways of getting educated, but through my own terms of getting little training here and there, for domestic violence or trainings that got me to where I got.
Turnstyle: Why are you participating in the CAD walk?
NG: My mom’s passing pushed me in a lot of ways to push other youth to organize. I was asked to do groundwork in Alabama, but a week before I left, I was called and asked to be one of the [CAD] walkers.
I’m looking forward to meeting different people, and really knowing that what we’re doing is powerful. It’s not only going to educate our communities, but our allies. Sharing our stories as a political tool to create change is something I look forward to.
I’m not doing this for myself, but to empower communities, and also to send out a national message of unity. We’ve lived in oppression too long. How do we move forward?
Stay tuned for upcoming coverage on the progress of the CAD walk. Have you heard a story similar to Nico’s? Think the walk is a good idea? Let us know what you think.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Friday, Feb. 10th
The Campaign for an American Dream (CAD) is starting to make some buzz on the West Coast, as four young undocumented residents prepare to walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C., in an attempt to raise awareness along the way about the DREAM Act and Immigration rights.
The DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would allow undocumented youth to get on a track to citizenship by going to college or being in the military. Many young people find out that they are undocumented years after they have moved to the U.S., and then realize that their pathways to becoming employed or continuing their education are blocked. Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who revealed that he was undocumented, and became a spokesperson for the undocumented population. You can watch his statement of support for the Campaign for an American Dream on their website.
The four walkers are between 22 – 26 years old, and from different parts of the U.S. They are converging in California in the next couple of weeks where they will participate in a day of lobbying in Sacramento and a protest at Travis Air Force base. Then they will make their way across the country for an estimated seven months. The walkers depart on March 10 and plan to arrive in D.C. in late October.
According to Jesus Guzman, Chair Emeritus of the CAD Finance Committee, and co-director of DREAM Act Alliance for Sonoma County, the walkers will not be doing the same thing in every city they visit. The campaign is leaving it up to each city to receive the walkers in a unique way. “In Colorado, they want to do work around a for-profit immigration detention center, so the walkers will contribute by holding a demonstration there. It’s up to the individual communities what they want to highlight,” said Guzman.
Guzman said they planned their arrival to coincide with the presidential election momentum, in order to raise awareness about immigration issues as people go to the polls. “Depending on how the elections fall into place–that will determine how we can respond to issues. During election season there’s so much that can happen,” said Guzman.
Stay tuned for an interview with a CAD walker and details on their route.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Friday, Oct. 14th
This past weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law part 2 of the CA DREAM Act (AB 131), which will allow undocumented immigrants access to state financial aid. The law becomes effective January 1, 2013.
So who’s happy about it? Not Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who has already filed referendum papers to overturn the law.
Turnstyle takes a look at what people are saying in favor of and against the CA DREAM Act.
• It’s an investment. One central argument for making it easier (financially) for undocumented students to attend college, is that the state will be investing in a better-educated, future generation of California. One editorial writer for the LA Times said, “California has already invested in these students, most of whom graduated from public schools. Barring such promising young men and women from financial assistance to attend college would only help push them into a permanent underclass.”
• It’s not the students’ fault. Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer prize winning journalist made headlines this summer when he revealed that he was undocumented — a fact he wasn’t aware of because he was brought here as a very young boy. The Multi-American tells the story of Mandeep Chahal, brought illegally to the U.S. at age 6, who graduated high school with honors only to nearly escape deportation. Several other stories echo this fact — that the students didn’t have a choice.
• It actually won’t cost that much. Financially, the main pool of money that undocumented students will now have access to is the $1.3-billion Cal-Grant entitlement program. The LA Times interviewed Diana Fuentes Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, who said that U.S. residents going to college will not be affected by the DREAM Act. She told the Times that those grants are unlimited and given to everyone who meets the academic and low-income requirements. “Last year, the aid commission made available an average $4,500 grant to all 372,565 eligible applicants — an increase of more than 145,000 students in three years,” according to Michel.
• Not that many undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition anyway. In order for an undocumented student to qualify for in-state tuition, and subsequently be eligible for a Cal Grant, the student has to comply with the current law — which means they have to have graduated from a California high school and affirmed that they are in the process of applying to legalize their immigration status.
A press release from the governor’s desk said that the extra number of students who qualify will not be a significant number. “The overall Cal Grant program is funded at $1.4 billion, meaning that 1 percent of all Cal Grant funds will be potentially impacted by AB 131 when the law goes into effect,” reads the release.
Other experts are also insisting that actually, the amount of money now available to undocumented students is not that much. The $127-million fund for Cal Grant competitive awards will go to U.S. citizens and legal residents before undocumented students, according to Michel.
In addition, many scholarship funds are restricted to U.S. citizens, because private donors can place restrictions on how their money is used, according to Ronald Johnson, UCLA director of financial aid in the LA Times.
• It sends the right message. Ultimately, for Assemblyman Gil Cedillo who wrote and advocated for the bill, the DREAM Act is about sending the right message to young people in California, and to the rest of the country. He told the press, “The signing of now both parts of the California Dream Act will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration.”
• The existing pool of financial aid is already too small. One of the main concerns among opponents of the DREAM Act, is that the existing pool of state financial aid money will decrease for legal U.S. citizens. The LA Times interviewed the president of the Berkeley College Republicans club, Shawn Lewis, who said that there are already insufficient public funds for legal California residents.
• California is already in debt and can’t afford more benefits. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks released a statement denouncing the act and the affects it will have on U.S. citizens. “California is billions of dollars in the hole, 2.5 million people are out of work, the Governor has cut our schools, shut down job centers, closed our state parks and slashed veterans’ reentry services by $10 million. Yet, he has found a slush fund of $42 million to hand to illegal aliens?” he wrote.
He compared the benefits that undocumented students receive to the ones military veterans receive. “Illegal immigrants already receive in-state tuition — a benefit even our military members do not receive. Now they can also receive community college fee waivers, apply for private scholarships and receive taxpayer subsidized CalGrants,” writes Donnelly.
The added cost of AB 131, according to the press release from Governor Jerry Brown’s office, will be an extra $14.5 million, due to an estimated 2,500 undocumented students who will qualify for Cal Grants.
• Undocumented graduates cannot get jobs. In addition, conservatives often make the point that after graduating, undocumented students won’t have job prospects anyway, so the “investment” is not a smart one.
• The DREAM Act rewards illegal actions. One reader responded sarcastically to an LA Times editorial, “I just love the logic here, since their parents successfully broke immigration laws and allowed their children to steal a k-12 education, we should now allow them to steal financial aid and seats at colleges and Universities. PURE GENIUS!” Many readers echoed these sentiments.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Wednesday, Sep. 7th
The second part of the California DREAM Act has reached Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, and students and activists are demanding that he sign it. A group of activists from the national organization By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), local educators, and middle school students held a press conference on September 1st at the UC Berkeley campus to spread the word about the upcoming deadline for passing the bill.
Yvette Falarca, a teacher at King Middle School in Berkeley, CA, brought some of her students with her. The students were there with the consent of their parents to speak out to the press about why the DREAM Act is important to them. Zaira Romero said, “I came to fight for my rights to go to college. Even though we’re not from here… We’re trying to tell them we want to be something in life.”
The first part of the CA DREAM Act, AB 130, which passed in July, allows undocumented college students in CA to receive private funding and scholarships. The second part, AB 131, would allow undocumented students to be eligible for state and government funding – the difference between going or not going for many students.
The group had planned the conference in that particular location because it was in front of the UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birjeneau’s office. Birjeneau came out and informed the activists that he would not be able to attend the press conference, but that he supports the issue. “I believe [the governor] will sign it,” said Birjeneau, who is also writing an op-ed for the Daily Cal in support of AB 131. “But we cannot forget about the Federal DREAM Act,” he said, reminding the group that they need to take their fight to the Federal level.
However, the group was not satisfied. They wanted him to commit to urging the University of California Board of Regents to pass a UC DREAM Act, that would open up options like the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan to undocumented students. The chancellor said, “I’m working on this behind the scenes to figure out a strategy…” but one person replied, “We can’t secretly support it!”
Tania Kappner, one of the founders of BAMN, and a graduate of the Education School at UC Berkeley, said this movement feels like the struggle for Affirmative Action during her time as a student.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birjeneau speaks with BAMN organizers about what he can do to support the CA DREAM Act.
She’s currently a history teacher at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, CA. She does not trust that Brown will sign the bill, because he approved the extensive budget cuts to higher education in California — a state that ranks near the bottom of the list in terms of funding per student. “Brown could go either way on this,” she said.
Ronald Cruz, a BAMN attorney and Boalt Law School grad, said that the announcement by President Obama that undocumented college students would be low-priority for deportation, made it easier for students to speak out in favor of the DREAM Act. “With the attack on public education right now, the DREAM ACt is core to keeping the American Dream alive for all,” he said.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Tuesday, Aug. 30th
President Obama recently announced that certain undocumented immigrants can be granted low-priority status for deportation, including DREAM Act-eligible students (as well as those with long-standing ties to the country). This announcement struck one undocumented person in particular — Higinio Agaton, recent graduate of the California State University of Sacramento (CSUS), who awaits his deportation hearing this Thursday. The announcement means a glimmer of hope for Agaton to remain in the country.
I spoke with Agaton, who told me how he ended up in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
During spring break, Agaton said he was at a bar just two blocks from his apartment with some friends. They had all been drinking. When they came out of the bar, local police watched them get in their car and drive home. Unluckily for Agaton, he had a broken tail light. The cops pulled him over and asked for his driver’s license. Agaton said he told them he didn’t have one, and was asked to step out of the vehicle, handcuffed, and taken away.
He described what happened next:
I was taken to a county jail. I got a DUI. Usually, everyone gets arrested and then released after they sober up. I wasn’t.
They called my name and I was transferred to a new cell. There was a hold on me so that I wouldn’t be released. They gave me a uniform as an inmate. I was there for a night.
Then they transferred me to the fifth floor. It’s the Mexican place. There are two different sides — the East and the West side. If you’re Mexican, you’re put with the Sureños.
I was there for two more nights. I didn’t sleep, eat, or s**t the whole time. I wasn’t used to that. I couldn’t stop thinking about my situation, what would happen next. I was going to graduate in June, this was March. I was thinking about the worst case scenario. I didn’t have anything to prove that I had an education.
After that, Agaton said he was transferred to an ICE detention center with several other immigrant detainees. “They handcuffed me and put a chain on my waist that connected 15 of us. I felt like an animal. Just to transfer us to a van,” he said.
Agaton said they were taken to the ICE facility downtown where he was pressured to sign a voluntary departure agreement. “They told me if you sign this right now, we’ll take you to Oakland and you’ll be on a plane to Mexico. Everything will be fine. .. I said I needed time to think about it. They said if you want, you can fight your case in front of a judge, but you will be detained in Arizona or Texas and it takes three to six months.”
At CSUS, Agaton was part of a Latino fraternity that did a lot of work with the DREAM Act. His fraternity brothers moved quickly on his behalf. Agaton said they sought help from the Mexican Consulate and then from a non-profit organization. Just before he was going to sign his departure release, Agaton was released on bond, which allowed him to graduate from college.
According to Agaton, he had the chance to go before the judge. However, he had no relatives with citizenship to sponsor him. Agaton’s mother, who had brought him to the U.S. at age 15, had returned to Mexico for cancer treatment. “I had no defense. I kind of gave up. The low-priority announcement gave me lots of hope,” he said.
The Obama administration has begun sifting through individual cases to check for low-priority status. Ideally, however, Agaton’s case would have been reviewed and already thrown out before his deportation hearing was scheduled to minimize the risk. “You don’t want to set foot in the immigration court hearing. You don’t want to face an ICE attorney,” he said. There is currently a petition on Change.org with 885 signatures asking ICE to stop Agaton’s deportation.
This whole ordeal has made Agaton want to go to law school and pursue immigration law. In fact, throughout his whole life, education has been a positive force.
When he came to the U.S., Agaton didn’t speak any English. He started high school and by the end of his first year, he said he had mastered the English language, and was recognized by the school district for his accomplishments. This was the moment that Agaton knew he wanted to continue toward a college education in America.
When he got to college, he delayed graduation to pursue a second major because of his immigration status. “I felt like if I graduated, I wouldn’t be able to find another job. I would be a college grad working at a fast food restaurant,” he said. “I decided to go for a second major [in] computer engineering,” he said.
There are countless stories like Agaton’s; individuals with no prior criminal record are picked up as a result of ICE’s Secure Communities program, and treated like Level 1 threats to U.S. security. Meanwhile, President Obama says ICE should use the discretion they have been granted and determine those who are low-priority.
Agaton shouldn’t have driven the car that night. “I regret it. I made a huge mistake,” he said. On Thursday, the immigration court will decide whether he gets another chance.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Friday, Aug. 19th
President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that low-priority immigration offenders would not be a focus for deportation, according to the Los Angeles Times. This applies to DREAM Act-eligible students and people who have family ties in the country.
The statement comes at a critical moment for President Obama, as Republican candidates begin competing with him for the Latino vote in November. When President Obama spoke at the National Council de la Raza last month, he was criticized for his administration’s slow progress on immigration reform.
He also supported the recent Secure Communities legislation, which has been seen with skepticism by pro-immigrant advocates. The law allows local and state police to hand over fingerprints and citizenship information for people they arrest to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The law has been criticized for scaling up the deportations of people who committed minor offenses. States are also unclear about whether turning over fingerprints is voluntary or mandatory. The Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law are currently involved in a lawsuit against this legislation.
President Obama’s recent announcement means that many cases up for deportation will be examined in a new light — to decide whether they are “low-priority.” If the person is granted low-priority status, they might even be eligible for work permits, the LA Times reports.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of California, who worked to push through the California DREAM Act legislation AB 130, said that he hopes the President will do more. “We appreciate it — that he’s not going to target young men and women who have become part of the best and brightest of CA — we’re pleased he’s not going to target them. We would obviously like him to enhance that commitment,” he said.
Cedillo said it’s typical to see families broken apart by deportation. “A brother and sister came into my office. The freshman brother was born here, a citizen, but his sister couldn’t get a scholarship. Why would you want to separate this family?”
In terms of next steps, Cedillo thinks this statement might help Obama win the Latino vote, but the question remains whether it will be executed. “What can we do now? Through the execution of policy we can protect the DREAM students, stop dividing families, and we can protect American families. … To the extent that the new statement moves us in that direction, it is welcomed,” he said.
Read the rest
Robyn Gee on Monday, Jul. 25th
President Obama spoke at the annual conference of the National Council de la Raza in Washington today, in an effort to rally Latino voters for his re-election campaign. According to Univision News, a straw poll taken at the event of 547 people, 78 percent said they would vote for Obama if the election was today.
But that doesn’t mean conference attendees welcomed him with completely open arms.
When President Obama said he would not use an executive order to enact immigration reform, the crowd started chanting, “Yes you can!” and “Si se puede,” according to Univision News. Obama insisted that he would love to do things himself, but “that’s not how our democracy works.”
Republicans and Democrats have begun heavily courting the Latino vote for 2012. One reason behind that is the young age of the American Latino population. In 2008, only four out of ten Latino residents were estimated to be eligible voters because of their young age and citizenship status, according to the Brookings Institute. They write in 2008, three out of ten Latinos were under age 30, and only about a tenth were over the age of 65.
However, the number of eligible Latino voters is certainly growing. The Pew Hispanic Center reported on the 2010 Census data, “50.5 million Hispanics were counted by the 2010 Census, up from 35.3 million in 2000. Over the same decade, the number of Latino eligible voters—adults who are U.S. citizens—also increased, from 13.2 million in 2000 to 21.3 million in 2010.”
In addition, “In 2010, Latino college graduates had the highest voter turnout rate (50.3%) among Latino eligible voters, while young Latinos ages 18 to 29 had the lowest (17.6%),” according to Pew.
So while young age and citizenship status drove Latinos away from the polls before, Obama and other candidates are trying to bring them back in 2012.
Read the rest
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel launched the Office of New Americans recently, in an effort to make Chicago the friendliest city to new immigrants.
In an interview with Univision News, Emmanuel relayed the importance of immigrants to the fabric of the Windy City: “One out of five Chicagoans are new immigrants… We are a city historically of new immigrants,” he said. He mentions that many new immigrants start new businesses.
Rahm Emmanuel views this new initiative as a way to stimulate the economy. This new program comes after the passage of the Illinois DREAM Act, which was initiated by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and gives undocumented students access to state funds in order to finance their college education.
Read the rest
Turnstyle on Friday, Jul. 15th
The Political Roundup delivers a mix of political content from around the web, curated for the Turnstyle reader.
Public Opinion Forms Around Debt Ceiling Issue
Opinions are beginning to shape around the issue of raising the debt ceiling. Americans are just about equally concerned about increasing government spending as they are about the potential blow to the economy by refusing to raise the debt limit.
Young Adults Stepping Up To The Political Plate
Young college grads, some who can’t even legally consume alcohol, have got the politics bug — they are stepping up to challenge well-funded incumbent politicians.
Update On Atlanta Schools Cheating Scandal
Governor Nathan Deal of Atlanta condemns the 178 teachers and principals that cheated by changing their students’ test scores. He says you just don’t cheat students.
Duncan And Obama On Education: Dream Act Can Reduce Deficit
Obama responds to questions about America’s schools during his Twitter Town Hall discussion, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says the DREAM Act is a must for the future of education and our country’s economy.
Voter ID Requirements Affect Youth Voters
At least 34 states have recently introduced bills that would require a government-issued, photo ID for voting– this law will soon go into effect in Wisconsin.
Robyn Gee and Chris McCoy contributed to this article.
Read the rest