I found myself on the steps of the courthouse with other Amnesty International members. We were holding signs that read “Immigrant Rights Are Human Rights!” and holding our heads even higher. I was proud to be there. But I was prouder of the students making history by walking 1,500 miles for immigrants’ rights. And Atlanta was just one stop along their crucial march for legal recognition, the Trail of Dreams 2010.
The Trail of Dreams is a trail of hope. It is headed by young people, Felipe, Gaby, Carlos, and Juan, who may lack legal recognition in the US, but carry their human rights. It is a 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington D.C to raise awareness about broken US immigration laws and to demand fair and humane immigration law and policy. It is a journey for these students, two of them undocumented, in their fight for rights.
The students walking represent the thousands of young immigrants who were brought to this country in their childhoods by parents who were trying to provide them with a better life. Many live in daily fear of arrest and deportation and have spent their entire lives hiding, understanding that they are considered ‘illegal’ human beings by some lawmakers and media pundits.
Every day in America, hundreds of thousands of young immigrants are unable to fully participate in society. They attend school, play sports and achieve good grades, but are prohibited from receiving any benefits such as in-state tuition to universities they dreamed of attending because they do not have lawful status. Worse, current immigration law provides no avenues for the vast majority of these students to legalize their status, no matter how well they do in school or how much they contribute to their communities.
On February 27th, Felipe, Gaby, Carlos, and Juan arrived in the city of Atlanta after traveling almost 700 miles by foot. Amnesty International members, including Atlanta local group 75, were there to greet them and celebrate their arrival. AIUSA members helped plan the welcome party with our coalition partners such as GALEO and GLAHR. About 150 people marched with the walkers for two miles to the welcome party. On the following Wednesday, AIUSA participated in an action planned by the four students to express concern about the implementation of the “287(g) program” across the country, including in Gwinnett County near Atlanta, Georgia.
The 287(g) program deputizes local law enforcement officers to act as immigration authorities and enforce federal immigration laws. Since the fall of 2009, when the law was implemented in Gwinnett County, some 900 immigrants have been identified for possible deportation proceedings and immigrants in the community have expressed an increased fear of engaging with local police, even when they are victims of crime.
Attempting to meet with the County Sheriff, Butch Conway, the four students entered the Gwinnett County courthouse. Due to their undocumented status, some of the students risked arrest and deportation by reaching out to the sheriff, but they went forward anyway. While the sheriff was not available that day, a representative of his office did meet with them and listened to the students’ concerns. No arrests took place.
They walk because they have human rights just like you and me.
They walk because they are not in hiding anymore.
They walk because no human being is “illegal”.
They walk because they too have a dream.
Ashley Rhymer is a Guest Contributor.