First-person: “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” showcases search for identity


Certain themes struck a chord for me in “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (Dreaming Without Borders), a performance last week at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. These stories conjured the struggles and complexity of being an undocumented immigrant growing up in the United States, and the search for identity in an adopted country that rejects us because of our status. Some of the individual stories resonated more than others, but I made a rooted connection with the idea of having to assimilate, being uncertain about whether I could attend college and the transformation from powerlessness to empowerment when I went from being a member of a disenfranchised group to becoming an activist on behalf of immigrants.

The character named Gabe, played by local actor Jose Julian, reminded me of my privilege benefiting from policies like AB-540, a law that has helped me pay in-state tuition; Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival (DACA), which grants me temporary legal status; and the California DREAM Act, a law that is helping me pay for college. Because he is from a different generation, Gabe did not grow up with all these benefits and a college education to him seems like an impossible dream. But these limitations do not define Gabe. [Read more…]

Undocumented youth dream with music, without borders

By Danielle Charbonneau and Ana Gonzalez


Dreaming Sin Fronteras on stage in Denver, where the show originated. | Dreaming Sin Fronteras Facebook

Dreaming Sin Fronteras, which comes to the University of Southern California on Oct. 16, blends music, art and theater to explore the narratives of young people who call themselves “dreamers” — undocumented youth who dream big, but battle obstacles.

Approximately five million undocumented children and young adults live in the United States, and about a million of them live in California. Most of them have grown up in America their entire lives and consider themselves American. But without legal documentation, they are often unable to pursue higher education or legitimate employment. As of 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has helped some youth under thirty to work legally and avoid getting sent out of the U.S. — at least for two year-periods.

See also: Why I should get in-state tuition as an undocumented student

Still, many of these “dreamers” fear deportation and many are actively seeking a pathway to citizenship. (A version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, has passed in California as well as in 14 others states, but has yet to meet federal approval. The California act assists undocumented students with financial aid.)

[Read more…]

Immigration activists demand reform in Obama’s second term


Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

President Obama has called the failure to pass immigration reform his biggest disappointment. After winning 71 percent of the Latino vote on Tuesday, many of those constituents won’t accept further delays.

That’s because exit polls conducted by polling firm Latino Decisions and the Pew Hispanic Center found that immigration reform is a priority for the Latino community.

California State Assemblyman Gil Cedillo said President Obama is now in a powerful position to help not only the country’s documented immigrants, but it’s more than 11 million undocumented ones too.

“We expect that; he has been committed to that,” Cedillo said. “We think the conditions exist now for it to be realized.”

But commitment might not be enough. In his first term, Obama couldn’t gather enough bipartisan support to pass the Federal Dream Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for people brought to this country as children. That forced many states, including California, to pass their own version of the law.

Angelica Salas of the Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said Obama needs to go further.

“The immigration question is resolved by legalizing 12 million people,” Salas said. She added that he should work with Congress to make immigration making our immigration “actually work by reuniting families instead of having them wait 30 and 40 years to be reunited with each other.”

Both Salas and Cedillo said Republicans should play a part in this process too, citing common ground among the GOP and Latinos on a number of other issues.

“Latinos in many instances are very poised to be Republicans. [They are] entrepreneurial, small business starters, very faith based,” he said. “All the values that the Republicans espouse are the values that are at the core of the immigrant Latino.”

But not everyone thinks Latinos can broaden the G.O.P. base. Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform says economic issues prevent many Latinos from ever voting Republican.

“If the party you’re representing says the opposition is cutting taxes and making government smaller – that’s not necessarily a platform that’s going to appeal to voters who pay very little in taxes to begin with and are dependent on the government for a lot of their basic needs,” Mehlman said.

Mehlman said many Republicans also want immigration reform – it just looks different than what Democrats are proposing.

“President Obama’s position seems to be that the interests of those people who came here illegally ought to be placed first,” he said. “The Republicans very often think it’s the interests of business that ought to be placed first, so there are many different perceptions of what immigration reform would entail.”

Since it could take lawmakers time to hammer out a deal, Cedillo and Salas said the President can make an immediate statement by curbing the number of deportations carried out by his administration – a number topping 1.4 million.

Supporters of DREAM Act wait for a decision

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageSupporters of the California DREAM act gathered this morning to urge Governor Jerry Brown to sign the bill into law. If the bill passes, undocumented college students in California would be eligible for publicly-funded financial aid.

Conrado Terrazas says the bill has widespread backing.

“We have very strong support from people in labor, business,the education community and non-profit sectors,” he says. “I think we’re looking forward to [Jerry Brown] showing leadership on this as he did with AB131, and to sign it.”

But not all believe the DREAM Act would be a good thing.

Assembly member Tim Donnelly (CA-59) says the bill would be counterproductive.

“The only thing they’re doing is passing bills to undo the safety net and increase and create more incentives for illegal immigration,” he said in a television interview.

The Center for Immigration Studies says this act would affect one million students.

Local groups call for immigration reform

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:


Immigration reformers and community members gathered outside Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church Tuesday morning at a news conference held by the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition.

“We are not animals,” said Helen DeLeon, one of the women speaking at the event. “We are humans, who have rights. And our children have rights. They have the right to be in Congress someday, to run for President someday.”

Many other local groups came to show their support. Peta Lindsay is with the ANSWER Coalition.

“I’m here as an organizer, as a woman, and more specifically as a black woman to urge Obama to keep his promise and implement comprehensive immigration reform now,” Lindsay said. “Black and Latina Women share a common cause. When it comes to poverty statistics, infant mortality and joblessness, women from both communities are racing to the bottom particularly during this economic crisis.”

The group’s main goals are comprehensive immigration reform and an end to immigration raids. Rosa Posades of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition called for overall immigration change but with special attention to women’s needs.

“The government should have a conscience,” said Posades. “They were born from women, too, so don’t be unfair to us.”

A specific problem raised was the breakup of families, of mothers and their children, when undocumented immigrants are deported. The Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition calls for less harsh punishment for people in the country illegally and more lenient requirements for legal immigration.

On the other side is Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. He believes the United States should limit the rights of immigrants.

“Overall what we would want is to try and have an immigration policy that doesn’t flood the unskilled labor market, that doesn’t create so many strains for our schools and health care system, and one of the main ways to do that is to bring the numbers down on both the legal and illegal side,” Camarota said.

Camarota does not believe there will be any big changes made on the immigration front at the congressional level, but he is not averse to trying to reach a compromise with the community that demands reform.

“Maybe one this is we want to have an amnesty for some fraction of the illegal immigrants who are here, maybe Dream Act recipients, and in return we reduce the number of legal immigrants coming in, accordingly,” Camarota said.

In the meantime, the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition continues to garner support for its April 16 march in downtown Los Angeles.

DREAM Act could generate $1.6 trillion

Listen to the audio story:


The DREAM Act applies only to those who came to the United States under the age of 16 and plan to pursue at least two years of higher education or military service.

Dr. Raul Hinojosa, a University of California, Los Angeles professor and director of the North American Integration and Development Center, found that the estimated 825,000 legalized youths would generate between $1.4 trillion and $1.6 triillion in income over a work life of 40 years.

Dr. Raul Hinojosa: We took a conservative estimate of what they would likely achieve in terms of education and then after that, what type of jobs could they be getting and what that would contribute to the economy over the next 40 years. On that basis, we calculated income taxes, sales taxes, all types of financial benefits, without taking into account the fact that many of them are also probably going to end up buying houses, businesses and creating more jobs for the rest of society. This is simply a very conservative version of what their income will be over the next 40 years.

Madeleine Scinto: I was reading some arguments by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington DC, that basically says the DREAM Act is actually going to give broader amnesty than the 2 million that are estimated as a possibility because it’s going to be used as a back-door avenue by some students who get legal status and try to bring more people.

Dr. Hinojosa: I don’t believe that this is going to be a big back door. On the contrary, what we have seen from these legalization programs in the past, is that they end up having a lot less people actually apply, that could apply. The key thing we need to understand is that these are people who have already gone through the educational system. They want to contribute to society. Many of them are already in colleges, paying their own tuition, working very hard to be able to make something of their lives. It’s logical, a no brainer, that we would want as many people as possible to be able to pay in to the social security and the tax system and pay back, and if we keep them in the shadows right now, they will graduate, and they will not be able to work. That entire contribution will not be able to benefit the whole society and the fiscal benefit of our budget deficits at the moment.

Friends and students rally for the DREAM Act

Listen to the audio story:


According to opinion polls, the DREAM Act may be one of the least controversial measures that has come before Congress in a very long time. A June Opinion Research poll found 70 percent of Americans are in favor of providing a path to citizenship for kids who grew up here.

And so is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. In fact, he is a co-sponsor of the bill. So why were Samantha Contreras and other DREAM Act supporters rallying in front of his Pasadena office?

“We’ve been working with him for many years, and he’s been on the fence,” Contreras said. “We want to make sure he keeps his word to us and votes yes.”

Schiff’s communications director, Maureen Shanahan, says he is not on the fence; he remains a co-sponsor of the bill. But activists are not taking any yes vote for granted. This will be the last chance to pass the DREAM Act before Republicans unfriendly to the bill take back the House in January.

The DREAM Act would affect up to 65,000 young men and women a year who graduate from American high schools after growing up in the here.

Those are young women and men like Felip Escobar. He is a student at Rio Hondo with a 3.0 grade point average; he is transferring to Cal State Northridge to study political science, and he was 12 years old when he came here illegally from Guatemala 10 years ago. He says he is a full citizen now. And he would like the same privileges for those who have come after him.

Escobar met with Schiff’s district director, while his fellow protesters held their banner for the few passing cars on Raymond Avenue. It was a much nicer reception than they got at Republican Congressman David Dreier’s San Dimas office just a couple of hours before.

“They told us they were too busy answering phone calls,” Contreras said.

Can you hear them now?

Walking for immigration reform

A coalition of organization is sponsoring an 18-mile walk Saturday, February 27. The walk will start in Koreatown at 8 a-m, and move through East L.A., before returning at 5 p-m. The 18-mile walk is being held to raise awareness for immigration reform and the DREAM Act. Asim Bharwani of Annenberg Radio News attended a news conference in which the organizers explained their goals.

For more information, visit Korean Resource Center

Telling the stories of undocumented youth

A new documentary that depicts the struggles of undocumented immigrant youths and the effort to help them become citizens will be screened on Tuesday in Gardena.

The film, “Papers,” features interviews with five undocumented immigrant youths as well as with teachers, politicians and immigration experts. Much of the film discusses the efforts to pass the federal DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have served in the military or completed two years of higher education.

A discussion with director Anne Galisky and others will follow the screening of the film.

In an interview last week, Galisky said she and her partner, producer Rebecca Shine, pressed to finish the film quickly. They shot their final footage at a June rally in Washington, D.C., in support of the DREAM Act and finished the film in September.

“We were responding to the urgency young people have been telling us that they have about this issue,” she said.

Galisky and Shine, of Portland, Ore., began to develop the idea for “Papers” two years ago. They both had mentored high school students and had heard the stories of Latino youths who lacked citizenship and were faced with limits on what they could do after graduation.

California’s response

Undocumented immigrants can attend school through 12th grade and in some states, including California, are eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges through Assembly Bill 540. But lacking a Social Security number, they cannot get federal financial aid or work legally.

As they started talking about making the movie, the filmmakers also were concerned about local ballot measures targeting undocumented immigrants and the Oregon governor’s decision to issue an executive order tightening rules for receiving driver’s licenses.

According to “Papers,” 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., including two million children. In the film, teachers talk about how many students begin their high school careers working hard in school, only to be discouraged when they understand the barriers they face to getting a college education and pursuing careers.

The problem doesn’t just affect Latino youths. One of the students in the film is Asian while another is from Jamaica.

All of the students who tell their stories are identified in the film only by their first names. One, Monica, is now living in the United States legally, but the rest all could be deported and took a risk by appearing in the film, Galisky said.

She said telling their stories seemed to help those who felt depressed about their circumstances.

“It feels good to speak out and to not be in hiding,” Galisky said.

DREAM Act’s future

The DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Some urge the passage of the legislation before addressing more sweeping immigration reform. Others want to focus on comprehensive reform to the nation’s immigration system. At a town meeting a few weeks ago at California State University-Dominguez Hills with the White House officials studying ways to improve education opportunities for Latino youth, officials said the Obama administration plans to reintroduce a version of the DREAM Act, but the White House is in the midst of conversations whether to include the legislation in immigration reform or in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

Galisky said she would like to see some type of victory for immigration rights activists, but isn’t urging a particular approach.

“My job is to bring the subject to the awareness of the broader community,” she said.

“Papers” will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Gardena Cinema, 14948 Crenshaw Boulevard, Gardena. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for a pre-show, featuring music and a few short videos. After the film there will be a panel discussion including Galisky; William Perez, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University; and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
Tickets are $5. Information: 310-217-0505. To learn more about the movie, visit