Young Undocumented Immigrants Come Out, Unafraid edited

From the September 2011 PNL #807

by Aly Wane

Young Undocumented Immigrants Come Out, Unafraid

Editor’s Note: As a response to the unwillingness of the political system to change immigration law in a way that might get them on a path to legalization, many undocumented youth are “coming out” and sharing their legal status publicly. They do so fully aware of the possibility of deportation. These young immigrants are purposely emulating the “coming out” strategy of the Gay Rights movement. By doing so they shed their fear of the system and assert their rights as human beings to have a home. They add complexity to the debate by sharing their stories in a media that frames the debate by demonizing them and drowning out their voices. Here is the public statement by Ju Hong, a UC Berkeley student who “came out” in July.

Statement By, UC Berkeley Dream Act Student

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” – John Lewis

My name is Ju Hong, and I am undocumented and unafraid.

On Tuesday, July 12, six other undocumented students and I conducted an act of civil disobedience to empower young undocumented immigrant youth and to protest the inhumane treatment of immigrants. We sat in the street near San Bernardino Valley College and submitted to arrest. We were taken to jail, and we are now being threatened with deportation. This is the first time in California where undocumented youth participated in non-violent civil disobedience.

We chose to protest in San Bernardino County because organizations like the National Socialist Party (Nazis), the Minutemen, and anti-immigrant legislators have been terrorizing the immigrant communities. In San Bernardino, a 17-year-old student was arrested and deported simply because he was riding his bike without the headlights on. Another student was arrested and deported because he was playing basketball on campus late at night. Where is the justice? Why are so many talented immigrant youth being targeted?

After our arrest, we were held in jail for almost 12 hours. All seven of us were confined to a single cell room with one toilet, one roll of toilet paper, and two long wooden benches. It was very cold.

One of the youngest participants, 19-year-old student Jorge Herrera, led the unity clap inside the cell. With our eyes closed, everyone followed by the rhythm of the clap. I shouted, ‘Isang Bagsak!’ a Filipino unity cry, “one down, one fall!” – meaning we must stand together and fight for justice. Even in jail, the room was filled with energy and strong determination.

Several hours later, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer came to our cell to interrogate us. The ICE agent looked directly at me and said, “I will not detain you today, but I will detain you soon.” In reality, the ICE agent has the authority to deport us, to separate us from our family and friends, and to send us to a country that is foreign to us.

ICE was notified because of the “secure communities” program that allows local law enforcement to share information with ICE to initiate deportation proceedings. This is an unjust program because it leaves immigrant communities vulnerable and distrustful of the police.

A year ago, my family’s home was burglarized. The door was broken into pieces, the windows were completely shattered, and our valuable belongings were gone. All of my family was terrified. My immediate reaction was to call the police, but my mother stopped me, “Ju, do not call the police,” she said. “What if you get deported?”

Like many other undocumented immigrants, I was living in the shadows and living in a constant fear of deportation. However, I have decided to stand up and fight back. I am sick and tired of remaining silent. Today, I am proclaiming to the world that I am undocumented and unafraid.
In the next couple of weeks, I will find out if ICE will start removal proceedings on our cases. If ICE decides to put me in deportation proceedings, I will take full action and I will fight until I regain my basic human rights.

I risked my life because I wanted to empower other young undocumented youth. In particular, I strongly encourage my fellow Asian American undocumented youth to take the next step and come out of the shadows. Start sharing your personal story to your friends, your relatives, your counselors, and your communities. This is only way we can empower our communities and fix our broken immigration system.

I risked my life because I wanted to show that this is not only a Latino issue; in fact, this is a human rights issue. I hope we can stand united as a movement, and not let divisions hurt our work.
We are calling on President Barack Obama to stop the deportation of all undocumented students throughout the country. Please join us.

This is our home, this is our country, and we want to contribute to make this nation a better place.
You can make our dreams come true. Thank you.

Isang Bagsak,
Ju Hong

Ju Hong, born in South Korea, was brought to the US at the age of nine, and is a member of the UC-Berkeley Student Senate