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3 Undocumented Immigrants Risk Deportation in Protest for Passage of DREAM Act

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Three young immigrant rights activists are facing possible deportation after their arrest in a sit-in on Monday at the offices of Republican Senator John McCain. The protesters called on McCain to back the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent citizenship to undocumented workers’ children if they completed two years of college. The three are each undocumented immigrants, marking one of the first known instances activists have risked deportation to back immigration reform legislation. The three activists join us from Phoenix. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama hosted his second official state dinner last night to welcome Mexican President Felipe Calderón to Washington. Sitting next to Calderón at the dinner were First Lady Michelle Obama and Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

Earlier in the day, President Obama and Calderón met privately. Part of the discussion centered on Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, which allows police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant.

At a press conference, Calderón openly criticized the Arizona law.

    PRESIDENT FELIPE CALDERON: [translated] In Mexico, we are and will continue being respectful of the internal policies of the United States and its legitimate right to establish, in accordance to its Constitution, whatever laws it approves. But we will retain our firm rejection to criminalize migration so that people that work and provide things to this nation will be treated as criminals, and we oppose firmly the SB 1070 Arizona law, given unfair principles that are partial and discriminatory.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama said his administration is examining the civil rights implications of the Arizona law.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We discussed the new law in Arizona, which is a misdirected effort, a misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system, and which has raised concerns in both our countries.

    Today, I want every American to know my administration has devoted unprecedented resources, in personnel and technology, to securing our border. Illegal immigration is down, not up. And we will continue to do what’s necessary to secure our shared border.

    And I want everyone, American and Mexican, to know my administration is taking a very close look at the Arizona law. We’re examining any implications, especially for civil rights, because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person, be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant or a visitor or a tourist from Mexico, should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.

AMY GOODMAN: While President Obama and Calderón were meeting in Washington, another drama was playing out in the state of Arizona. Three immigrant rights activists are facing possible deportation after they were arrested in a sit-in on Monday at the offices of Republican Senator John McCain. The students called on McCain to back the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent citizenship to undocumented workers’ children if they completed two years of college. The three are each undocumented immigrants, marking one of the first known instances activists have risked deportation to back immigration reform legislation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The activists were held in ICE detention on Tuesday night but were released on Wednesday after a judge ruled they were not a flight risk. The three activists join us now in Phoenix.

Mohammad Abdollahi is a twenty-four-year-old Iranian-born immigrant rights activist. He’s a co-founder of dreamactivist.org, a resource web portal for undocumented students. He’s lived in Michigan since he was three years old.

Yahaira Carrillo is a student at Rockhurst University in Kansas. She was born in Mexico and is the founder of the Kansas Missouri Dream Alliance.

And Lizbeth Mateo is an organizer with DREAM Team Los Angeles. She came to this country at the age of fourteen from Mexico.

Welcome to all three of you. Lizbeth, could you tell us what happened subsequent to your arrest when you entered Senator McCain’s offices?

LIZBETH MATEO: So we staged a sit-in at Senator McCain’s office, and, you know, we were there for a few hours. We refused to leave. And after that, you know, we demanded to — actually, we demanded to get Senator McCain to co-sponsor the DREAM Act. After that, we were arrested and were taken to county jail, where we spent the night. And the next day, we had a hearing, and we were eventually turned over to ICE. We were in custody of ICE for a few hours, and then they determined that we could leave, under a promise to — you know, to appear in court and to, you know, basically just appear in court later, at a later date, when they set that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us a little bit about your personal story and why you made this decision at this particular time to risk the possibility of deportation?

LIZBETH MATEO: Sure. Well, I came to this country when I was fourteen years old and, you know, went to high school. I went to college. I graduated a couple years ago. I’ve been working on the DREAM Act for about seven years now. And throughout that time, I’ve met a lot of young people who have lost a lot of hope, who are so desperate, and who have gone through so much depression and don’t know what to do. I’ve been organizing, like I say, for seven years, and I feel like that I’m, in a way, responsible to do something. You know, I’m twenty-five years old. I’m not so young anymore. And I work with a lot of really young people, high school students who, you know, in a way, look up to me and to other people in my situation who have made it through college. And so, I felt a big responsibility to do something, even if that was, you know, risking possible deportation.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad, tell us your story, why you chose to sit in that day at McCain’s office earlier this week.

MOHAMMAD ABDOLLAHI: Certainly, certainly. My family immigrated here from Iran when I was three years old. I’ve been living here pretty much my whole life. I went to elementary school here, middle school, high school. I graduated from high school in 2003. And after graduating, I kind of came up to this roadblock, where I really wasn’t able to do much because of my legal status. And so, I started organizing on the DREAM Act and started working with students that were facing deportation and helping stop their deportations and organizing and getting resources to undocumented students around the country to make sure that, even if I wasn’t able to go to college, other students would have that opportunity, that we could help them with that.

And so, as we were getting down to the end of this year, we were realizing that the DREAM Act really has a very small chance of passing, in terms of time that we have left. And so we started realizing that, you know, we need to escalate as a movement, and we need to start taking bigger risks, so that we can make sure the DREAM Act has a chance of passing before the end of the school year. And so, that’s why we decided to do this action.

Senator McCain was a longtime supporter of the DREAM Act. He was a champion in 2007. And unfortunately, he felt the need to leave the Senate floor fifteen minutes before the vote in 2007. And so, we thought he was a good target here, here in Arizona, to kind of remind him that we respected him in 2007 as a champion, and out of that respect, we wanted to come back to his office and show him that, you know, we’re still here, we’re still undocumented, and we definitely need him to take a risk, just as we took a risk with our lives, and co-sponsor the DREAM Act.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad, what would happen if you were deported? Where would you be deported to?

MOHAMMAD ABDOLLAHI: If I was deported, I’d be deported to Iran. And because I’m gay, that’s probably not the best place to go. And to be completely honest, I haven’t really thought about what would happen if I was to go back. At this point, like Lisbeth was saying, doing this action came out of a place where we actually owe a lot of responsibility to the undocumented youth that we work with. And as undocumented students that are a little bit more out there and a little bit more public and have a little bit stronger networks than a lot of the young people that we work with, it’s our responsibility to take bigger risks. And so, I would put my life any day in the hands of the people I’m sitting here with, the undocumented youth that I’m working with. And that’s what we did with this action, because we really need to push the DREAM Act forward.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Mohammad, what do you say to those Americans who may be sympathetic to your ability to make a successful college career for yourself, but who say that you’re still in the country illegally and that many others from around the world who are trying to come to the country go through the legal immigration process? What’s your response to them?

MOHAMMAD ABDOLLAHI: I would just remind them, just like myself and Lizbeth and Yahaira sitting here, we’ve pretty much grown up in this country, and so we consider this country our home. And so, whenever people say things like that, for us, it’s just — we’re about — we’re trying to improve our home, which is this country, and that’s why we’re trying to work for the passage of the DREAM Act, because we see a problem in our country, and we want to solve that. And so, that’s why we’re working towards the DREAM Act, because we want the same thing as those people. And so, hopefully we can work together to pass the DREAM Act.

AMY GOODMAN: Yahaira Carrillo, tell us your story. You’re a student. And tell us how you ended up sitting in at John McCain’s office.

YAHAIRA CARRILLO: Well, first of all, thank you for having us here today.

Yes, I am a student at Rockhurst University. I graduated high school in 2003 and have been working on my bachelor’s degree since then. Currently, that’s been seven years in the making. I expect to graduate, hopefully, next spring, which will make eight years since I’ve been working on my degree. I came to the US when I was seven. So, just like Mohammad states, this feels like my home.

And just like Lizbeth stated, we’ve been organizing for years around the DREAM Act. And this action is bigger than ourselves, is one thing that we like to remind ourselves of, and that it’s not about us as individuals. It really is about the thousands of students that we work with and the urgency that they feel and the desperation that they feel, and really the need to pass the DREAM Act, because we need to give young people hope, because their dreams are being truncated and their hopes are being dashed every single day, especially now that we’re in graduation season. It’s a bittersweet time for undocumented youth who are graduating high school and really don’t know what the next step is and where their lives are really going to go. And that’s why I decided to step up and to be there at Senator McCain’s office.

AMY GOODMAN: Where would you be deported to?

YAHAIRA CARRILLO: I would be deported to Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your sense right now of what is going happen in all of your cases? Will you be deported? And what has Senator McCain had to say about this? This will be the first time in the country that young undocumented immigrants will be deported for protesting around immigration reform.

YAHAIRA CARRILLO: When we decided to take this step to really step up to the plate and be the leaders that young people look to us as, we knew that that was a risk. But like I said, this is beyond ourselves, and we were willing to take that risk for the young people that we work with. You know, it’s about the DREAM Act. We have to remember the message is not about our individual cases and whether we will or won’t be deported. But the passage of the DREAM Act would address that. The passage of the DREAM Act would stop our deportations and really allow us to move forward with our futures and the dreams that we have of bettering our communities and fully integrating as the Americans that we feel.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Yahaira, what’s been the reaction of your parents to your actions, and the rest of your community?

YAHAIRA CARRILLO: My community has really shown, and all of our communities have shown, an outpouring of love and support for us. They know how hard we have been working for the past years. They know that we’re dedicated, and they know why we’re doing this. And they are with us every step of the way. We definitely feel their love and their support, and we know that they’re doing everything they can to work with us for passage of the DREAM Act.

My mom, you know, it’s hard for her to see her little girl grow up and be taking these kinds of steps, but I know that she is proud of me and, you know, the leadership that I portray. And she knows why I’m doing this. It’s for the right reasons. It’s for bigger reasons than myself. I mean, I wanted to be a teacher. It’s really about those young people who, I hope, will continue to learn and to grow. And without the DREAM Act, they really don’t have that incentive to continue learning, to continue growing and fulfilling themselves as human beings. And that just doesn’t make sense to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Lizbeth, has John McCain weighed in? You all have said that he was for the DREAM Act, and now he is not supporting it. Has he spoken with you, or has his office spoken with any of you?

LIZBETH MATEO: No. No, he hasn’t. One of the things that we did get out of that, you know, sit-in was to eventually schedule a meeting with him when he’s in Arizona, which will be in a couple weeks. So hopefully we’ll be meeting with him in person.

He hasn’t said anything really about the DREAM Act. I know that — we know that he supports it. We know that it’s an election year, and so he has to play politics. But we’re really tired of politicians playing politics with our lives, because they’re not just — you know, they’re thousands of lives. And so, we’re hopeful that he will finally come out in support of the DREAM Act and that both Republicans and Democrats will stop blaming each other for their inaction. I think we need a leader. And we are definitely looking up to not just Senator McCain, but other senators, key leaders in the Senate, to step up to the plate and, you know, take the risk that — a similar risk that we took, you know, have the courage to take that risk, just like we did and just like thousands of students do every day, when they finally say, you know, “I’m going to put fear aside, and I’m going to be myself, and yes, I am undocumented.”

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank —

LIZBETH MATEO: So we’re hopeful that that will happen.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Lizbeth Mateo, Yahaira Carrillo and Mohammad Abdollahi. Thank you for joining us from Phoenix. We hope to be able to talk to you again soon, and we hope that won’t mean that you’re no longer in this country. We will follow your case around whether you will be deported or not for protesting, for sitting in at Senator McCain’s office.

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