She was a demure, compact girl of maybe five feet on a good day, who walked with power and passion and eyes that took in the world. She smiled easily and intensely, made friends quickly, and was ready to get down to business. Oh, and she was undocumented.
I met Lizbeth Mateo in the basement of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles during the winter break of my last year at Riverside City College, before I transferred to UC Davis. Students from 26 schools had come together to solidify the California Dream Network, a movement to fight for undocumented student rights that had barely been a dream years before. At the time, I didn't know the power of the conviction in that room, nor the lengths to which those students would go in their fight for immigration reform.
Lizbeth left the relative safety of the United States with two other activists, Lulu Martinez and Marco Saavedra, to participate in the most recent of a series of escalating protests, this one from the Mexico side of the border and in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). They joined others who had been forced to leave due to their status, including 22-year-old Adriana Diaz, who fled Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's reign of terror; Maria Peniche, from Massachusetts; Luis Gustavo Leon, 20, who said he has been deported from the United States four times, and is trying to get back to his family in North Carolina; Claudia, who's mom is a citizen and who holds a teaching credential from Cambridge University; and Ceferino Santiago, who came to the United States at age 13 and became a muralist and an athlete.
According to Colorlines, this past Monday, the protesters entered the "Nogales border patrol station with thousands of supporters on the United States and Mexico sides cheering." They walked arm-in-arm, and brought paperwork to file for humanitarian parole, a process that is "used sparingly to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency."
What's the emergency? The immigration system is broken and millions are suffering. If denied humanitarian parole, the group (with NIYA lawyers assisting) plans to file for asylum. The protesters were taken to the Florence Detention Center, and later transferred to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where they remain. This is one of the most important, radical, and powerful direct actions in immigration activism history.
(Source: Samantha Sais/Associated Press)
Why would these activists do this? Why would individuals who had already been forced to leave the United States subject themselves to the violence and terror of America's private prison system? According to NIYA, "The Obama Administration has created a deportation machine resulting in the destruction of over 1.7 million lives, and the devastating separation of those families by the border. Those 1.7 million people are not lost and forgotten; rather, they are people who deserve to have the choice to return to their home in this country."
(Source: Human Rights Watch)
The nine are not alone. Huffington Post's Prerna Lal reports that, "just hours after the Dream 9 crossed, a group of 30 people who had already been deported to Mexico attempted to cross as well. It’s unclear what became of their effort. Pima County public defender Margo Cowan, who is providing legal services for the Dream 9, said she will support the effort of the 30 additional crossers, should they need it." The idea of appealing on humanitarian grounds has struck a nerve that was already frayed by the months, years, and decades in which individuals were precluded from visiting loved ones, seeing home, or being considered American.
The immigration system is broken. We know it can be fixed. We know the government has discretion over prosecution and enforcement, and we know that President Barack Obama continues to talk a good game when it comes to immigration reform while simultaneously deporting more people than any president in history. These activists have gone the route of Mario Savio and thrown their bodies into the gears and levers of this odious deportation machine. To quote Savio:
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
You can help these activists to stop this machine. Here are some ways to support the Dream 9 and #BringThemHome:
2. There is also a petition to support Dream 9 as a whole.
3. Join the #BringThemHome rally in San Francisco at 12 p.m. today.
4. Join the #BringThemHome rally in Sacramento at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
5. Call Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): (309) 786-5173, (618) 351-1122, (217) 492-4062, (312) 353-4952, (202) 224-2152
6. Call your state's representatives and senators to demand just immigration reform.
Wanna talk immigration, prison, and more? Follow me on twitter: @JohnathenDD