Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic

Protest march in Washington D.C., July 2010. Photo by cfpereda used under a Creative Commons license
Protest march in Washington D.C., July 2010. Photo by cfpereda used under a Creative Commons license.

The Obama administration has announced this morning that the President will issue an executive order that grants safety from deportation for undocumented young people under the age of 30 as long as they meet a specific criteria. 

Homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the administration would follow a new "discretionary policy" towards anyone under 30 years old, who arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday, and have lived in the country continuously for five years.  They must also be in school or have served in the military, have received their high school diploma or GED, and have no criminal record.  

This is a win for the Dream Act movement, which seeks permanent status for undocumented young people. As the "Dreamers" who gathered this morning at the federal building in downtown Los Angeles in support of the Administrations action noted with picket signs and chants, "this is only the beginning." The Dream Act, blocked by Congress in December 2010, cleared a path for citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. This executive order does not offer citizenship or permanent legal status, but it does stop deportations of those that fall under this criteria by offering "deferred status" for up to two years with the option of extension. This marks a new opportunity for safety for thousands of young people who have risked themselves by "coming out" as undocumented.

Many of the young people directly affected by this order have already contributed to their community and country as students, volunteers, artists, community activist, and will now be able to openly continue that contribution through the workforce. Through the new "deferred status" they will be able to apply for work permits and enrich not only themselves but the economy as well. This is a game changer for countless students who have graduated with Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D's, but who have been unable to accept internships and job offers related to their degrees. These are young, talented, motivated young people who will now be able to step out of the shadows.

"Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic" is the slogan for many of those young people who have braved the risk of deportation to put a face on the undocumented immigrant. Not an "illegal," but a human being working and striving to excel in school, their community and ultimately bring change to a troubled and flawed national policy.

Departures Youth Voices has worked with students throughout Los Angeles who have lived with the secret burden or the pressure of being public about their undocumented status. They have examined their neighborhoods through the Youth Voices curriculum and sought to understand themselves in a place they call home, but one in which they are not completely welcomed. They have brought a distinct perspective to the process and created work that both overtly and discreetly questions perspectives of who they are and where they belong. 

Below "Dreamer" Karina Perez sits in front of "The Great Wall of Los Angeles," a mural that documents the rich and tangled history of immigrants and people of color in Los Angeles. Karina discusses her passion for muralism and how being an artist has helped her express herself and promote social justice.

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