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Young East Bay Immigrants Are Fighting the Good Fight

A coalition of young activists is pushing for a "Clean Dream Act" that would do more than just protect those enrolled in DACA.



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"All of that nuance and reality gets erased from the conversations everybody's having," he told the crowd. "It made me realize the fragility of legality."

That fragility comes from how malleable legal and political labels can be, Prieto explained. He noted that when same-sex marriage was illegal, many people viewed it as being wrong. But now that it's legal, it's no longer immoral for many of those same people. Laws often affect the morality of certain actions, but when those laws change, that judgment changes with them. Prieto applies this philosophy to his own work, which advocates for the decriminalization of immigrants like his mother who had to escape dangerous situations. He said the need to survive in certain situations causes moral people to commit certain illegal acts, and though this may make them criminals in the eyes of the law, it doesn't make them bad. "Legality messed up the way we think about morality," he said.

Prieto has been under DACA status since 2013 when he transferred to UC Berkeley from San Bernardino Valley College. He clearly realizes that the Trump administration poses a more urgent threat to his community. He still believes that his and RISE's pressure tactics can work. But, he said, they have to keep fighting.

Valeria came into the United States in 2011 with her family, who wanted to reunite with her grandparents who had already moved to the country. Her father had just lost his job, and the violence in her town, Queretaro, Mexico, was getting harder to endure. Before they left, her father explained to Valeria and her siblings that they were going to be undocumented. She made sure she knew her rights.

At 16, she arrived in the East Bay city of San Pablo and began attending Hercules High School. She said she immediately felt a sense of culture shock and alienation. It was hard to communicate with people in another language. She also felt she was at a disadvantage, because she had to learn a new school system. There was also the pressure of being undocumented.

"There was no one in Hercules openly saying they were helping undocumented students," she said. "If there were any resources, I didn't know of them."

Later, as she was going through the college application process, she didn't know the extent to which being undocumented would affect her chances of getting accepted anywhere. After talking with her high school counselor, Valeria began to trust her and told her she was undocumented.

"She was totally clueless," Valeria said.

But the counselor became her main source of support. She told Valeria that, although she didn't know how to help her get into college, they were going to tackle the challenge together.

Her counselor assembled information on opportunities for undocumented students in California, and Valeria soon began applying to schools and scholarships. This is also how she learned about the nonprofit advocacy group Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC). Through this group, Valeria learned about the California Dream Act and Assembly Bill 540. The former was put in place in 2011 and allows some undocumented students to apply for and receive state-funded financial aid if they qualify under AB 540, which states that students are eligible for in-state tuition if they attended high school in California and are applying to a public university.

Valeria said she felt safer once she found out about the state's Dream Act and after Obama put DACA in place. She didn't qualify for DACA because of the age limit imposed on the program — only those who were younger than 16 when they entered the U.S. are eligible, and she didn't qualify for the state Dream Act because she hadn't attended a California high school for more than three years, as the law mandates. Still, she was hopeful and kept applying to schools and scholarships that didn't require her to give a Social Security number. "It gave me some trust in the government saying they cared about young people who were doing things right," she said.

Today, the 23-year-old undocumented engineering student at Santa Clara University never considers going back to Mexico. She still has friends and family in the country, but she wants to go to graduate school and continue doing research in her field.

She said she's too busy to be involved with immigration activist groups, but she continues to share resources from E4FC to make sure people know that the California Dream Act and AB 540 are still in place. She knows people were scared after Trump announced the rescission of DACA, but she doesn't want that to dissuade her siblings and others to apply for college.

Her dream job is to be an engineer for NASA. But without a work permit or a Social Security number, she's unable to get employment. Though she's wary of anti-immigration crackdowns under Trump, she hopes that eventually there will be some kind of immigration reform like a Clean Dream Act that will include people like her.

It would change everything. "I haven't really thought of a future with papers," she said.

After Trump's DACA announcement, a student group at Richmond High School called La Raza organized a walk-out in protest. They asked staff members of the high school to join in. Though many declined, some made it clear that they supported the students in their mission.


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