In the midst of an annual convening to set strategy and direction for 2014 for United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth network in the country, over 500 immigrant youth leaders, families and representatives of the 50+ affiliate organizations of United We Dream marched and caravanned through Phoenix to the downtown ICE office. The marchers were led by the Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC), an affiliate of United We Dream, as well as leaders with the Puente Human Rights Movement and family members facing deportation leading a 2-week long hunger strike and encampment.
Speakers at the event rallied the crowd, demanding that President Obama halt deportations and family separations while Republican leaders in the House of Representatives continue to stall on immigration reform legislation.
“Today, we’ve gathered here in Phoenix to pressure President Obama to stop deportations that are tearing our families and communities apart,” said Lucas Condognolla a Dreamer from Connecticut Students 4 a DREAM, a United We Dream affiliate. “Any immigrant advocacy organization that isn’t calling out President Obama does not represent our community. Also, we’re calling on Democratic leadership to demand that the President do more for our families and stop senseless deportations.”
The marchers were also accompanied by a caravan of three cars driven by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who are barred from applying from driver’s licenses as part of Governor Jan Brewer’s crusade against immigrants. The procession and caravan started at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, where United We Dream is holding its annual Congress, celebrating victories from the last year and charting the network’s course for the rest of 2014. DREAMers and their families ended the march outside the ICE Field Office in downtown Phoenix, the same site of an August action led United We Dream and Arizona Dream Act Coalition leaders, when several fearless DREAMers chained themselves to the gate of the building and stopped a bus carrying immigrants being deported.
Last year, United We Dream and the Arizona Dream Act Coalition also waged dozens of campaigns to stop deportations of DREAMers and family members, including Raul Leon.
“I was put into deportation proceedings during a traffic stop in which I wasn’t even the driver,” said Raul Leon, an Arizona father of a ten-year-old son. “But the support from my community gave me the courage to fight and I’m blessed to still be here. But there are thousands every day that are forced to leave, and we’re calling on President Obama to stop these unjust deportations and stop the pain in our communities.”
The out-of-control enforcement machine continues without ceasing, with President Obama nearing the 2 million deportation mark, more than any other President. The immigrant youth movement is turning up the heat on the President for his record of inhumane immigration enforcement and family separation. Too many families continue to be ripped apart to meet arbitrary quotas, families like Ardani Lemus’.
Ardani, an asylum-seeker from Guatemala, was detained for over a year after a minor traffic violation, missing the birth of his second child and separation from his wife, a DACA recipient, and son. Eventually, despite extensive advocacy and grassroots organizing from ADAC and United We Dream, alongside other immigrant rights’ groups, Ardani was deported in December to Guatemala, a country where he feared for his life.
Naira Zapata, Ardani’s wife, spoke at the press conference, tearfully recounting how the reckless enforcement machine took her husband away from her and their children.
“He was driving to work at 1 a.m. on December 21st, 2012,” said Zapata. “That’s the last time I saw him. And it breaks my heart that he’s only been able to meet his daughter through a computer screen.”
Families from Arizona have been camped outside the ICE office in Phoenix for two weeks, protesting the detention of their loved ones. United We Dream leaders stood in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their quest to reunite their families and stop the pain in the community.
The Not1More Hunger Strike was initiated on President’s Day by mothers and fathers who had exhausted all other routes to see their children released from the detention centers they’re held in, facing imminent deportation unless ICE uses its discretion in their cases as it’s mandated to do. It is a joint effort between families on the outside and detainees on the inside, four of whom have already been placed in isolation for striking. Dozens of other detainees in the Eloy Detention Center have also joined the strike.