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Abounding protests kick off the New Year and highlight the pressing need for immigration reform

TrailofDreams 2009 witnessed neither abatement in the numbers of people detained by immigration enforcement, nor in the number of families separated as a result of deportation. And little progress was made towards advancing comprehensive immigration reform, except for the bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez on December 15th. Consequently, 2010 has begun with a flurry of courageous and provocative protests by immigrant rights advocates calling for just and humane immigration reform ASAP.

On the 1st of January, four young student activists set out on a protest march in which they have committed to walking 1,500 miles from Miami, Florida, across the Southeast, to Washington D.C., arriving on the steps of  the Capitol on May 1st (a day that has become important for immigrant rallies in recent years). The walk, which has been called The Trail of Dreams, is inspired by the idea of non-violent resistance, and aims to strengthen and inspire the immigrant rights movement and help organize the advocate networks across the country to stand together for the passage of the Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM ACT).

About 100 people gathered to see off the four walkers, Juan Rodriguez (20), Carlos Roa (22), Felipe Matos (23), and Gaby Pacheco (24), as they began their journey from the Freedom Tower in Miami. Over the next few months, the four will be chronicling their journey through a blog as often as they can. The walkers are all top students and community organizers at local colleges and expect students and supporters to join them along the way.  Since they are not all here legally, they face a high risk of exposing themselves to immigration agents over the duration of their walk.  “We are aware of the risk,” Felipe said to the New York Times. “We are risking our future because our present is unbearable.”  From an article in the Washington Post:

All say they are willing to take the risks that come with bringing attention to the plight of students who, like themselves, were brought to the U.S. as children and are now here illegally. “I’m tired of coming back to school each semester and hearing about another friend who was picked up and deported,” Juan Rodriguez told a group of supporters during a recent gathering.

Also on the first day of the new decade, after sitting down to their final meal together, another group of brave and committed individuals in Florida began the Fast for Our Families protest, in which they have initiated an indefinite fast in the name of all those people who have lost, and continue to lose, loved ones due to deportation, detention and raids.

The fasters include a Haitian mother who is facing the threat of being separated from her children, a Puerto Rican man whose wife faces deportation, and a female professional truckdriver, the initiator of the fast, who lost her business and her livelihood when she was deported in 2005 after living here for 18 years, when her ex-husband reported her to the authorities. She came back to the country to be with and support her three children, and was subsequently put under surveillance by ICE. Today she wears an electronic bracelet and faces deportation.

One of the fasters is Jon Fried, a 50 year old man who has been involved in social justice and labor movements for 35 years and runs the organization We Count! On day 2 of the fast, he wrote:

Five of us are fasting indefinitely, as long as it takes; our target is President Obama and our goal is to get him to use the legal authority he has, now, without Congress, to suspend the detention and deportation of immigrants with American families, those who have US citizen children and/or spouses…This decision to fast was not taken lightly. I was tired of getting phone calls from a mother, a father, a brother, a sister saying that their loved ones, their family, was taken away by ICE…

Most urgently, the cost is too high. Now. It’s too painful. It’s too horrific. My friends and neighbors shouldn’t be collateral damage in a political scheme. Parents and youth ripped from their families is not an acceptable cost. Thousands of people marked and tracked with electronic shackles, living in fear of being taken away from their loved ones every time they report to ICE or its private contractors, is not an acceptable cost. Young people being deported to homelands they hardly remember is not an acceptable cost. It is time to say to President Obama: This is on your watch.

Together, the participants of the Trail of Dreams and the Fast for Our Families campaigns hope to build momentum and push the current administration towards just and comprehensive immigration reform that asks for:

1) EQUAL ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION
2) A pathway to citizenship
3) An end to the separation of families
4) And a deliberate and radical shift from the federal funding of raids, detentions and deportations to better educational opportunities for ALL the youth of America!

There are a number of ways that YOU can get involved and show your support towards these bold efforts.

For updated information about the Trail of Dreams, click here, and to follow the Fast for Our families, here. Also, join their facebook group to learn more about their personal stories.

Photo courtesy of www.nytimes.com

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