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9 DREAMer Actions That Advanced Immigration Reform

Courtesy of Steve Pavey

Nine young people who claimed asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border were granted parole on Wednesday, and released from an immigration detention center in Arizona. The "Dream 9" crossed the border in late July as part of a protest against U.S. deportation policies. While in detention, these young people organized other detainees and documented conditions. They also launched a hunger strike and one member of their group was reportedly placed in solitary confinement. Their broader message: Any immigration reform bill should recognize the people who've been deported, most of whom have been non-criminals or people who committed low-level offenses. The Dream 9 still need to appear at an asylum hearing, unless they gain some sort of special reprieve from the Obama administration. It's worth noting that since Obama took office, more than 1.6 million have been deported, and the majority have been sent to Mexico. Of course, this isn't the first group that has tried to impact reform. Here are eight other DREAMer protests that have influenced the broader immigration dialogue: Update, Aug. 16, 10:25 a.m.: We missed a few major actions in this round-up, including the "Trail of Dreams" march from Miami to D.C. and the groundbreaking New York Times article "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant" by Jose Antonio Vargas.

A sit-in at John McCain's office
With Congress basically ignoring immigration policy, a group of three undocumented immigrants took to Republican Sen. John McCain's Tucson, Arizona, office to get his attention in May 2010 . Mohammad Abdollahi was among the protesters calling for McCain to support the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented young people. Abdollahi, who had come to the U.S. at age 3, faced deportation to Iran. He was also gay, which made the situation more tense, since homosexuality is a crime punishable by death there. "It's not only Sen. McCain we're looking for and holding accountable, there's senators all across the country we're holding accountable," Abdollahi said. "We're telling them you've been asking for a long time for somebody to step up and take leadership on this -- none of you have been willing to do so -- so as non-citizens, we've taken that lead." The DREAMers were released and told to periodically check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Abdollahi later told a reporter. According to a spokesperson for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), no DREAMer has even been deported because of an act of civil disobedience. Photo courtesy of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Action organized by The Dream Is Coming.
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A hunger strike outside Chuck Schumer's NYC office
Along with the protest at McCain's office in Arizona, DREAMers were hounding Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Activists demanded to speak to him about about advancing immigration legislation, but Schumer was dodging them. So for 10 days, young people held a hunger strike outside his downtown Manhattan office. The action slowly gained momentum, and when the activists held a "die-in" on the tenth day of the protest, The New York Times was there to report it. Schumer met with protesters on the final day. "He did find ten minutes of his time to come tell us that what we're doing is frustrating for him," said Yadira Alvarez, a hunger striker who spoke to ABC News. "We're tired of promises and we're tired of waiting." Image cuortesy of the New York State Youth Leadership Council. Actions organized by New York State Youth Leadership Council and The Dream Is Coming.
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Blocking traffic in Georgia
Immigration legislation wasn't likely to happen at the federal level in 2011, but some state legislatures were trying to take policy into their own hands, Arizona-style. Georgia was one of those states: that year, it passed a law meant to stem illegal immigration. But opponents branded it as discriminatory. In April, before the law was enacted, more than 100 people marched for immigrant rights in downtown Atlanta, including seven DREAMers who blocked traffic and were arrested. "I am doing this for my family, for my brothers and sisters," Dayanna Rebolledo, a then 21-year-old factory worker from Mexico, told Creative Loafing. "We are undocumented and unafraid. We are standing up for those undocumented who are afraid and who are in the shadows. We are risking everything to give our community a chance." Image courtesy of Steve Pavey. Action organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
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DREAMers take over Obama's Denver campaign office
One of the hallmarks of DREAMer activists is that they haven't been afraid to target politicians from either party. President Obama learned that in June 2012, when activists took over his Denver campaign office and started a hunger strike. That protest was the first of a series of actions at Democratic campaign offices across the country. The photo above is from an action in Cincinnati, Ohio, and courtesy of Steve Pavey. Action organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
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The "Right to Dream" National Day of Action
Along with the DREAMers protesting at political campaign offices were others who organized marches and more mainstream actions around the country. Rallies took place in Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Arizona, California and Oklahoma, among other places. The pressure was well-timed: while DREAMers were occupying Democrats' offices and marching for immigrant rights, the president went forward and announced a deportation relief program for young undocumented immigrants. "It showed the power of Dreamers," Julieta Garibay, a legislative affairs associate with United We Dream, told Voxxi this June. "It showed that even when the president tells you 'No, I can't do it,' even when advocates tell you, 'Don't push anymore because it's not going to happen,' we stuck to our guns and said, 'No, we are going to push until we get this.'" Image courtesy of United We Dream. Action organized by United We Dream.
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DREAMers infiltrate a Florida detention center
After a person is taken into custody by federal immigration officials, they're brought to an immigration detention center. But the world of immigration detention is murky -- the facilities are often remote and inaccessible to the public. To counteract this, a group of DREAMers launched an exposé in the summer of 2012: they placed themselves in the custody of immigration officials, and covertly recorded what was happening inside the facility. One of the undercover detainees, Viridiana Martinez, spoke to Democracy Now while she was inside the immigration jail. She said some of the people in the facility didn't belong there, and should have qualified for an Obama-administration deportation relief program called "prosecutorial discretion": "Now that I'm inside, I have found several stories of women -- because I'm in the women's section -- who have been held for over a year, some for months only, but they don't belong here. They applied for the prosecutorial discretion announcement that was made last year by the Obama administration. And some of these women were, you know, either not even driving -- they were passengers in a car -- and they were questioned about their status. And now they are being held here for months." Image courtesy of Steve Pavey. Action organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
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Migrants unite at the border through "Operation Butterfly"
The immigration debate often focuses on the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without papers, but there are also those who have been deported. Similar to the message of the Dream 9 action, Operation Butterfly brought attention to separated families. Three DREAMers went to the border in Arizona and met their mothers, who had been deported or had chosen to leave, but could not return to the U.S. The tearful reunions -- the families had been kept apart for as much as six years -- made it to the front page of The New York Times. Image courtesy of United We Dream. Action organized by United We Dream.
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Mock citizenship ceremony outside the Capitol
An immigration reform bill passed in the Senate this June, the best chance for policy reform in years. To put the pressure on the House to pass similar legislation, DREAMers organized a mock citizenship ceremony several weeks later. The message went beyond just seeking citizenship for young people. Activists like Arizona resident Reyna Montoya called for immigration reform with "a pathway to citizenship that is going to include my mom and is going to include a lot of families." "Our parents are the original Dreamers," she said. Image courtesy of United We Dream. Action organized by United We Dream.
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