A new chance for young, undocumented immigrants in the SGV?

The Obama administration announced Friday it will stop deporting undocumented immigrants who arrived under the age of 16 and are younger than 30. These young people will also be eligible for two-year renewable work permits. Among the young people who could benefit are members of the San Gabriel Valley Youth Immigrant Coalition, formerly the San Gabriel Valley Dream Team. In January, we profiled some of these young people, who are working for changes like this and to transform undocumented status into a point of empowerment. 

Originally posted 1.10.2012

Jonathan Perez felt the surprised stares as he ate his Chinese food. The East Los Angeles College student wore a t-shirt with the word “undocumented” emblazoned across his chest in large letters. It's what he is: Since Perez jumped the border at age three fleeing his native Colombia, he has been an undocumented immigrant.

Perez is part of a wave of young people who are choosing to come out about status as a vehicle to empowerment, similar to the way that the gay movement did a generation before. “If we’re in the shadows, we’re actually more vulnerable," Perez said. "It’s easier for you to get deported because you don’t have a support network that’s organized.”

Not everyone agrees with his approach. When he began sharing his status, he noticed a clear divide in the area where he grew up on the border of East Los Angeles and the neighboring more Asian and suburban San Gabriel Valley. In East LA, he says, the shirt got a lively reaction. In Alhambra, where the 24-year-old lived for a few months last year, he says, “people just looked and are shocked.”  At restaurants, he recalls, customers and employees alike would approach him and ask, “Aren’t you afraid?”

Last spring, Perez joined Pasadena City College students Martha Vasquez and Isaac Barrera and several other activists dedicated to creating a new immigration advocacy movement in the San Gabriel Valley. Crucial to their mission is advocating for immigration reform in an area where status is often kept hushed. They want young people who live here and are rarely heard from, in particular Asian students, to share their experiences as well. Nearly half of undocumented students paying tuition in the California system are Asian, according to a College Board study, but the stories told about them are by and large Latino. (A recent prominent exception is the Filipino reporter, Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out as an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times Magazine essay.)

"I was frustrated, both in Alhambra and other parts [of the San Gabriel Valley], because I didn't see any immigrant movements happening," Perez said. "It's different when you come to East L.A. and see everyone is organizing and I got used to that. Looking at communities in the San Gabriel Valley, it's not present."

Since then, the San Gabriel Valley Dream Team members have attented rallies, worked to forge alliances with ethnic organizations, and hosted civil disobedience actions as far away as Alabama. This week they have been the driving force in expanding the movement to an alliance of groups called the Immigrant Youth Coalition. And on January 21 they will run a seminar for high school students at Cal State-LA.   

Despite the San Gabriel organization's growth, engaging their Asian peers has been a challenge. Nearly a year in, their group remains almost entirely Latino. It’s not for lack of trying, organizers say. They have worked with national and campus Asian organizations, such as APALC, but found being undocumented still provokes a greater barrier of shame in those communities. Vasquez, who arrived from Mexico at three and whose first memories are in the United States, said that it has been a struggle with fellow students at PCC. “I tell them we’re all in this together and we need to come out,” she said. “It’s very difficult for a lot of Asians to talk about their own stories. Or their families tend not to talk about it.” Perez said that he has spoken with dozens of Asian undocumented immigrants, but that they “don’t want to talk about it or don’t want to come out.”

Jonathan Perez, left and Isaac Barrera, right, after being released from immigration detention in Louisiana.Challenges notwithstanding, organizers reported a change is already happening amongst San Gabriel Valley area youth. For Perez, this became clear after being arrested in Alabama last fall when he turned himself into Border Patrol in an attempt to prove that the Obama administration is deporting immigrants who are not criminals. He was sent to a detention center in Louisiana. Crucial to his release, he says, was that so many young people at Pasadena City College were out about their status — and advocating for him. “When I was that age, I wouldn’t have done something like that," Perez said at a press conference after he returned. “That was a big thing for me to see.”

11 thoughts on “A new chance for young, undocumented immigrants in the SGV?”

  1. Law Abiding U.S. Citizen

    I wonder whose social security number are these undocumented “unafraid” aliens are using ???? Using somebody else’s social security number is a form of Identity Theft which is a crime. So should be granted legal permanent status for this ?

  2. Why would undocumented Asians WANT to come out?

    You know how hard it was to get over here? – on a boat most likely! Not hopping a border – a boat! Sure, some of the more well-to-do illegal Asian immigrants are here on expired visas but a lot of them came on a BOAT that came across the Pacific Ocean.

  3. If people think just because they feel that the excuse of the undocumented not following the laws is the only coment to cover their bigotry, I tell you that the goverment should start following the laws, invating other contries, false flags, Guantanamo, Irak, Pakistan, and it is done with the indiference supported with the the silence of people that say that undocumented shoiul follow the laws, Event that parents are undocumented still pay taxes meaning they contribute to the social welfare, without mention the millions that just work and pay taxes and social security and never will use it. So if you are no even friend of an undocumented person you keep you mouth #.

  4. If people think just because they feel that the excuse of the undocumented not following the laws is the only coment to cover their bigotry, I tell you that the goverment should start following the laws, invating other contries, false flags, Guantanamo, Irak, Pakistan, and it is done with the indiference supported with the the silence of people that say that undocumented shoiul follow the laws, Event that parents are undocumented still pay taxes meaning they contribute to the social welfare, without mention the millions that just work and pay taxes and social security and never will use it. So if you are no even friend of an undocumented person you keep you mouth #.

  5. Legal Alhambra Resident

    Dulcy Jenkins is right.

    I am a legal resident here and I had to follow the laws. Just because you’re children of illegals doesn’t make you special. There are thousands kids in other countries who could contribute here in the USA but their parents FOLLOW THE LAWS. The only thing special for these undocumented people is that they didn’t have the cross the entire ocean or smuggle onboard a plane.

    Changing the law doesn’t mean breaking the law!

    Even asians are now crossing the borders. This non-sense has to stop!

  6. @Dulcy Jenkins

    The problem is that there is currently NO process. In other words, these people DO want to become legal but there is no process to obtain legal residence. A nation of immigrants is one of the fundamental ideas of this country. However, historically this idea has only been used to justify the invasion by the English and other European settlers. It’s time for us Americans to practice what we preach and welcome these immigrants from Asia and Latin America. They have made our country great.

    1. I love the diversity. We need it! It’s great, but quit ignoring the laws of the country you want to live in. Just become legal.

  7. They are special indeed! There are about 65,000 undocumented students graduating from public high schools each year, and many not only qualify to go onto college, but also have the desire to do so. Unfortunately, many of these talented youngsters don’t qualify for financial aid and don’t have the means to pay for tuition. Also, many of these students came to this country at a very young age against their will and have grown up American, and are American in every sense of the word. These young undocumented students deserve a path towards legalization and opportunity to contribute to society. Yes, they are “different” and they are “special” as well, and I teach both documented and undocumented students on a daily basis in this community. These young Americans are courageous by organizing and advocating for their themselves, and they deserve our support!

    1. In America, no one, especially the people that are documented, deserve anything just because they are born here. Many ordinary American students get jobs and pay their own way through schools as Americans and make it on their hard work and merit without any “special” advocacy and without any public outlay of money or special services. As for the “undocumented,” this ultimately means they will have to accept the truth of their parents’ purloined residency and realize that just because they made it through a public education system through the largess of legal resident taxpayers entitles them to nothing, even though some claim they deserve “special” status, which they don’t. They are special only because, without legal residency, they received the benefits of living in America and partaking of its public education and all the extra benefits including free meals at schools. For this they should be perpetually grateful. As to what they deserve further, they should earn it according to the law and not as an entitlement. An attitude of gratitude would be truly courageous. But unfortunately, their public education has taught them their entitlement mentality. To wit: we owe them because they demand it. That’s the California way now.

  8. There are a lot of people who have done what they have had to do to become citizens. Why are you any different? Why don’t you have to go through the same process? Are you guys special?

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