Tag Archives: Arizona

Undocumented Students: The Change We Can Believe In

Photo: elcanche.com/blog

They’re  smart, hip and politically motivated.  Undocumented students  want a path to citizenship, and they’re not stopping there.  They want comprehensive immigration reform for their families and  environmental justice for their communities.  Growing up in inter-racial neighborhoods, they have broad world views.  They can envision a different kind of future where open borders and fair labor practices exist throughout North  America.

On Memorial Day, I joined a bus caravan of undocumented students and their supporters on a trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix.  They students there to protest Arizona’s tough new immigration laws and speak out for passage of the Dream Act, a federal bill that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship.

Looking for inspiration?  Forget Obama.  These kids get that democracy starts from the grassroots.  They may be progressive America’s best hope for “the change we can believe in.”


June 21, 2010 – By Lydia Breen

She looked like any other college kid on UCLA’s campus.  But for most of her life, Nancy Meza, 23, was afraid of being deported from a country that in every way but one is her own.   Last month, Meza’s long-held dream of a university degree was about to come true.  Why did she risk it all by publically revealing she is an undocumented immigrant?

Born in Mexico, Meza moved to the United States with her parents when she was six years old.  College was her long-held dream.  An excellent student in high school, she was offered a full scholarship to Berkeley then had to turn it down because she wasn’t  a citizen.   Ineligible for government loans, she held down  jobs and slowly worked her way through community college before transferring to UCLA.

At  commencement exercises last week Meza and her family were jubilant.  But reality was already setting in: without citizenship,  her hopes for going on to  law school would not come to pass.  A low paying job in the grey market economy may be the best she’ll get.

UCLA grads. Photo: UCLA

During UCLA’s commencement exercises, keynote speaker Gustavo Arellano gave a nod to young people who fight for immigrant rights.   A UCLA alum and journalist, Arellano writes the award-wining column  “¡Ask a Mexican!”.  The son of immigrant parents,  his said his father “came to the States in the trunk of a Chevy in 1968.”  In spite of the odds, his parents had three children, all with college degrees.   Speaking of the battle for comprehensive reform Arellano said:

Think what you will of our current immigration wars, but don’t dismiss their courage as weepy-moany propaganda. Gustavo Arellano, keynote speaker at UCLA’s 2010 commencement exercises

Dream Activists say they'll keep fighting for the rights of their families and communities. Photo: Lydia Breen

“Ya Basta!”

Over the past six months, a growing number of  smart, committed and savvy undocumented students like Nancy Meza are speaking  and acting out.   Frustrated by the inability of Congress to fix the country’s broken immigration system, they have focused their attention on one particular piece of legislation –  the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly called  the Dream Act, designed to  provide undocumented young people with a six-year path to citizenship.

Young immigrants  must have entered the U.S. before they were 15, have a high school diploma or G.E.D., and be “of good moral character.”  Once approved,   they have to complete at least two years of college or military service, then wait 6 years to apply for legal residency.The Dream Act has been stalled in Congress for nearly a decade. (Dream Act  requirements are spelled out in this site: The Dream Act Portal.)

Undocumented students like Meza say they have been holding up their end of the bargain – getting good grades, staying out of trouble, contributing to their communities but  they still can’t get a break.  She and other “Dream Activists” claim that each year that the Dream Act is not passed, 65,000 high school graduates are doomed to live their lives in the shadows.   (In 2007, the bill failed by 8 votes in the U.S. Senate.)

A growing number of young immigrants are speaking out and  participating in acts of civil disobedience.  It is not clear why – perhaps it is the anti-immigrant sentiments epitomized by events in Arizona.  But Dream Activists seem fired up with a fierce determination  reminiscent of grassroots efforts like those carried out by the Farmworkers Movement for dignity and fair labor practices or the  Freedom Riders in the South.

Politicians on both sides of the Congressional aisle express concern about the Dream Act.  On the right, opponents say the Dream Act  would reward law-breakers at the expense of our own citizens and  those who came to the country legally.  On the left,  some  immigration rights activists say passage would require them to make unacceptable compromises with Republicans, that would dilute their desire for more fundamental economic reform.  For example, Republicans want a border fence a proposal that would effectively kill  hopes  for open borders and  fair trade policies that incorporate  just labor practices throughout North America.

But Dream Activist Prernal Lai writes that young  immigrants need a win. She argues that the Dream Act energizes young people of color, gets them interested in the political process and encourages them to stay in school.   She and others don’t wait another four or mor years to set out on the path for citizenship for some that would be too late.

Father and son team joined the caravan from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Photo: Lydia Breen

Support for the Dream Act may be gaining ground in Congress.  If passed, Dream Activists say they won’t  forget their undocumented family members and neighbors; they’ll keep on fighting for comprehensive immigration reform.


Dream Activist bus caravan from Los Angeles to Phoenix Photo: Lydia Breen

On Memorial Day weekend, Nancy Meza joined  more than 100 members of the Dream Team in Los Angeles and Orange County, travelling by bus caravan from Los Angeles to Phoenix to protest Aizona’s tough new immigration law, SB 1070 (see Cafe Libre’s previous post)  and to show solidarity for the state’s young immigrants.  Some in the caravan were undocumented, others were U.S.-born or naturalized citizens.

During interviews conducted  on the trip,  many said they felt hurt by the passage of SB 1070, a bill which they say turns them and their families into  criminals.   Some expressed disappointed with President Obama who campaigned on the promise of   immigration reform. (As president Obama has increased deportation  by 5 percent. Although the program promised to target criminal,  the majority of those deported  have no criminal record.)

Before leaving the students decided to leave their i.d. at home.  If the caravan were stopped,  they decided to take an act of civil disobedience. If asked, they would refuse to identify themselves to state troopers in defiance of SB 1070.  .

Freedom Riders rode on interstate busses in the 1960s to challenge racist laws. This bus was burned in 1961 near Anniston, Alabama.

En route, trip organizer Nadi Dominguez was interviewed by telephone, explaining the trip would shod how young people acting together they have the power to change society:

“For a long time the youth have been existing in institutions where we were told invisible and silent to make sure that we could survive.  …Now we are seeing an uprising of the youth who are saying: ‘ Enough is enough… I am going to stand up for myself,  my family and  my community… More than anything that has been the driving force for the youth, to be able to tell a young person in high school that to be undocumented is not something we should be shameful of and that we have power and we can create change.” – Nadi Dominguez interviewed on KPFK’a Uprising, Friday, May 28, 2010

Thousands took to the Phoenix streets to protest SB 1070. Photo: Michael Schennum, The Arizona Republic

An Arizona man chats with a veteran civil rights worker from Louisiana at a rally held after the march on grounds of the state capital building in Phoenix. Photo: Lydia Breen

With the passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s conservative politicians  did what the progressive movement has  failed to do: bring a coalition of brown, red, black and

white people middle class, working and poor-out into the streets.

Mural from the Museums Without Borders Conference in Los Angeles. The painting was a collaborative effort between the street artist RETNA, Mear One and conference visitors. Credit: digitalretna.com/blog

Protestors at the Memorial Day event in Phoenix included undocumented families pushing children in strollers, veteran black civil rights workers from Louisiana ,   white university students from Maine, peace workers from Tennessee, church-goers from Tucson and Native Americans from South Dakota.

As they marched and sang under the desert sun young people energized the other protestors,  including some high school and elementary students who walked by their side along the five-mile route.

Dream Team Orange County joined by local youngsters. Photo: Lydia Breen

Young people were the most important element at Saturday’s event.  They are the key to the immigrant rights movement.  There is no doubt about that.  As we speak, they are mobilizing. Isabel Garcia, Coalción de Derechos Humanos interviewed on KPFK in Los Angeles.

Favianna Rodgriugez, San Francisco artist who designed this "Undocumented Unafraid" poster along with Orange County Dream Team member Bao Ngiyen Photo: L. Breen


After the march, Nancy Meza was one of the speakers who addressed a crowd of thousands at a rally.  She said she was “undocumented and unafraid ” to  fight for passage of the Dream Act and defeat SB 1070. Standing by, Arizona State troopers made no arrests.

credit: Lydia Breen

Stalled in Traffic, Hate Radio Host Cries: “Wah!”

It wasn’t the first time this year that Meza flirted with deportation.  Weeks earlier,  she helped but did not directly participate in an act of civil disobedience that blocked rush hour traffic for a few hours in Downtown Los Angeles.  Acting as media coordinator for a group of Dream Activists,  she wrote a press release saying where the event would take place, identifying herself as an undocumented student and providing her cell phone number.   The action was taken to highlight the failure of Congress to pass  the Dream Act.  Nine protestors, all U.S. citizens, were arrested.

Spot the accountant. Radio hosts Jon and Ken Photo: KFI-AM

Ken Chiampou was one of many Angelenos caught up in the jam on plush Westside of town.  A nationally syndicated co- host of KFI-AM radio’s  “Jon and Ken Show,” Chiampou was outraged that a bunch of “illegals” had wrecked his day.  Chiampou, an accountant in his previous life, gave out  Meza’s cell phone number over the air and urged his listeners to call ICE and have her deported.  KFI listeners – (the station has one of the largest audiences in the country) responded enthusiastically to his clarion call. Meza was inundated with calls and emails :

“On the first day I got more than 500 calls and hundreds of emails and text messages,” explained Meza during an interview on the bus to Phoenix. “They wrote all sorts of things from  ‘Go back to Mexico’ to  ‘Who the f#!k do you think you are?’  I couldn’t believe it.”

Sidebar: Venom as fashion accessory

T-shirt, $23.99 Photo: Skreened.com

Skreened.com  in Columbus, Ohio offers a “Deport Nancy Mesa” T-shirt for  $23.99.  The  company website  says:  “Don’t let this illegal immigrant cause any more disruption in your life! The back of this shirt has the toll-free number to report illegal immigrants.”  ( Ironically,  Skreened promotes itself as an ethical company that sources  to green manufactures committed to fair practices for workers.  It also claims to make Kiva microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. )


poster design: Favianna Rodriguez

The police are investigating some of the more serious threats made against Meza, but she says her personal safety is no longer her primary concern: “When we say undocumented and unafraid, we mean it. It’s more of a risk to remain silent. But it’s a risk that I am ready to take. Once we put a human face on the problems we face, most people are very receptive.”

Her chief frustration with the protest in downtown Los Angeles was that the media focused its gaze on her instead of the Dream Act.  Of the nine protestors arrested that day, all were U.S. citizens. Until now, none have been interviewed by the media.

Jonathan Bibriesca, Dream Team Orange County

Jonathan Bibriesca was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for blocking traffic in downtown Los Angeles. Born in Mexico, he is a naturalized citizen, he was attached to the Marines, serving six years as a medic in Iraq.   He is currently a  full-time student at UC Santa Anna.   A few years ago Bibriesca  joined the  Orange County Dream Team after observing  undocumented students struggle through college.  “Students work hard to get where they are,” said Bribesca while interviewed on the bus caravan. “They work two, three jobs and still manage to get into college and get good grades.”

In addition to his advocacy work for passage of the Dream Act, he also  gives pep talks at high schools where he encourages undocumented students to keep their grades up and follow their dreams, no matter the odds.   The support he gives seems especially to kids in Orange County, a conservative GOP stronghold where immigrants can have a hard time.

The Dream Continues

Patriots come in all colors

Undocumented students are chasing the same dream that Martin Luther King imagined for young people like Barak Obama.  They want dignity and hope for a better life for themselves, their families and a country that is, short one piece of paper, their own.  They are eager to contribute their energy and talent.

They just want a chance.



Coming To A Community Near You? Arizona’s Volatile Immigration Battle


"Is this the change you promised us? Barack Obama Where are you? What's next?" Banner at May 1st rally in Los Angeles. More than 50,000 people attended. Photo Credit: Lydia Breen

 If you think  SB1070 has little to do with you or minorities in your community, think again. At least ten states are considering legislation similar to Arizona’s law.  Democratic lawmakers in Washington are  also studying aspects of  to see if it can be used as a template for tough measure on comprehensive immigration reform.   During May 1st demonstrations across the country,    tens of thousands of people called for a boycott of  Arizona , demanding comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Will Latinos  get President Obama  to make good on his promise of meaningful, just immigration reform? Or will the “Big O” equivocate while nativists  score political points by spreading fear in local communities?  The following article takes a closer look at SB 1070.  ( The bill has not yet gone into effect. Legal challenges could block it all together. 

Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems as happy as a pig in mud with SB 1070. The bill has emboldened his nativist supporters. Now Arpaio says he may run for governor. Credit: change.org

In Arizona, it seems like the “birthers” are running the ranch,  where folks like  Sheriff Joe Arpaio bask in the glow of the SB 1070.  Even Republicans are split on the bill.  Business and civic leaders in the state are upset  that the backlash from a boycott could have a troubling economic fallout.    The right-of-center  Arizona Republic went on the war path in a front page editorial last Sunday, saying  the bill panders to people’s worst fears about immigrants while doing little to bring about badly needed reform   [Click here to watch a great interview with David Zirin talking about  how pro atheltes are speaking out in favor of a Arizona boycott.]

Congress is responsible for passing laws that will secure our borders and regulate immigration in a just manner.  But, for years,   Congress has lacked the courage to act. Not ones to miss an opportunity, the birthers  (who don’t even believe the President of the United States is legally in the country) are ready to take up the slack. 

Ten states are now considering immigration laws similar to Arizona’s SB1070, including Missouri, Maryland and Nebraska – none of which have high numbers of undocumented people. In Ohio,  sheriff Richard K. Jones is backing a state-wide initiative to get an Arizona-style  bill on the ballot. (This in spite of the fact that Ohio’s Hispanics, most residing legally in the state ,  constitute  2.5% of the state’s population.) 

For some insight on how this plays out in local communities, a new documentary shows how immigration was used to divide a community in Prince William County Virginia, an area far from the nation’s southern border.  Watch “95000 Immigration”.  Click here for  THE TRAILER then check the schedule on the web site to see if it may be playing in a theater near you. 

The voice of tomorrow: "Legalization or No Re-election"

SB1070 – low hanging fruit 

A central measure of the bill would make  it a crime for undocumented people to seek work as day laborers. This targets the poorest of the poor immigrants while doing little to crack down on drug traffickers and terrorists. Nor does it g after sweatshops owners, agribusiness and others  who exploit undocumented workers. 

May 1st rally in Los Angeles protests Arizona SB 1079. Photo Credit: Lydia Breen

 Instruction manual not included 

Under SB 1070, if  a police officer stops someone for any reason, the officer  must inquire about  their immigration status,  provided  the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that  the person stopped is in the country illegally.  (Previously, Arizona law required an officer to ask about immigration status only if a serious crime had been committed or if a serious crime was being investigated. ) 

A few days after it was passed, the bill was amended to say that an officer may not use race as sole grounds for reasonable suspicion.  But it does not specify what criteria  (accent, clothing, demeanor??) should be used.  Further, if a citizen who has reason to believe that someone is in the country illegally, the citizen can require the police to investigate. 

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik didn’t mince words, calling the bill “disgusting,” “racist” and “stupid.”  In an interview on Democracy Now he said: 

“This law will have no impact whatsoever on illegal immigration. None at all. We already have the authority. We didn’t need it…When the law was first passed… every Hispanic in this country, especially in Arizona, must have [felt] like they’d been kicked in the teeth, like they’re now second-class citizens.  They have a target on their back because when they leave the house they’re going to have to take papers with them and prepare to be stopped and questioned. That, overnight, has made Hispanics second-class citizens.  ” – Clarence Dupnik, Pima County Sheriff  

 Officer Martin Escobar, a naturalized U.S. citizen with the Tucson Police Department went further  by saying he would not comply with the bill if it gets passed into law.  Escobar has filed suit against the state saying it is impossible for police to enforce the law in a non-discriminatory 

"Life, Love, Family" a band from the Baldwin Park neighborhood of L.A. participated in the May 1st rally

May 1st Rally focused on Arizona's immigration inequities

manner.  He claims the bill will sour police relations with immigrant communities and hinder investigations of serious crimes.    Not all law enforcement officials agree. Some, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is delighted with SB 1070, as he continues his raids and rampages in the immigrant neighbors in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale.)   But a recent L.A. Times article state that  70% of the people arrested by Sherriff Arpaio and his boys in the  Sherriff’s Department had Spanish surnames. This,  in spite of the fact Maricopa County  is only 31% Latino, most of whom are legal residing in the or U.S. citizens. 

Arpaio, who made his name by profiling Latinos (he says “illegals” are his top priority, more so than drug addicts) and forcing prisoners to endure disgusting conditions,  has  molded his own profile on along the lines of a stereotypical redneck cop.   No matter  Thanks to SB 1070,  the guy liberals love to hate is drooling in the limelight, claiming he may even run for Governor. 

“Help Wanted” , “No Trespassing” 

Faith leaders are taking up the call. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles spoke out eloquently against the bill,  calling it “unconstitutional ” and racist.  While Mahoney has lost much moral high ground by equivocating over  protecting children who were abused by priests operating under his authority,   he has long been a strong advocate for immigrants’ rights. 

photo credit: Lydia Breen

The cardinal criticized Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona lawmakers for failing to provide a definition of  reasonable suspicion when writing up the bill.  ( “They can’t,” he said in a L.A. Times article.”Because you’d come up with ‘brown skin, black hair and ‘listens to ranchera music.’ “) 

In his recent blog post, “Arizona’s dreadful anti-immigrant law”,   Mahoney writes: “the tragedy of the law is it’ s totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.” 

Mahoney goes on to describe the inherent contradictions of the bill: “What led the Arizona Legislature to pass such a law is so obvious to all of us who have been working for federal comprehensive immigration reform:  The present immigration system is completely incapable of balancing our nation’s need for labor and the supply of that labor. 

“We have built a huge wall along our southern border, and have posted in effect two signs next to each other. One reads, ‘No Trespassing,’ and the other reads, ‘Help Wanted.’ The ill-conceived Arizona law does nothing to balance our labor needs,” he wrote.– Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archdiocese of Los Angeles  

A day laborer waits for work where he can get find some support at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, 2008. Credit: NY Times Institute

Church members will not comply 

Other faith leaders are also speaking out. The Reverend Alison Harrington, pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church recently told a large crowd of the faithful: 

It is immoral, unethical and unjust; and as faith leaders we are called to struggle against sin, to call our leaders into repentance and to call our community into action. 

The new bill forbids citizens to hire and/or transport undocumented people.  But members o faith communities around Tucson Arizona say they drive  undocumented people to Sunday church services.  Calling the bill a “sin,”  Harrington and others say they will not comply with the law. 

Big Brother:  binoculars and a database 

It’s hard to see where all this is going without a national biometric identification card, to be required by all working citizens.  The current draft of the Democrats bill in Congress proposes as much, preferring the more palatable term “biometric employment verification.” But groups like the ACLU have strong concerns about the proposal.’s impact on our privacy – a on-going battle during the Bush Administration. 

Concern that fear mongering on immigrant issues will lead to an erosion of our privacy were underscored by an article published Sunday in the Arizona Republic.  The article describe an increased use of surveillance cameras throughout Phoenix,  which Arizona ACLU’s Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze said may lead to a “surveillance society”  without a  transparent reporting process in place. 

Adding weight to the argument, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wondered  if Republicans wondered where Republicans will stand on the issue of identity cards.  Will they try to sink the idea as another attempt by  Big Brother Obama  to stick his nose in our business? Or will they let the idea fly, as they did by giving  Bush got a green light to fight terrorists by accessing citizens private telephone numbers. 

 A country forged by dreams 

The dreams, talents and hard work of our immigrant ancestors shaped this country.  While it is true that we now live in different time, with different pressures on our resources,  the values that guide us are the same as they were when our country was founded. 

The dream goes on

Current day immigrants continue to help keep our country strong.  At a time when we are face with so many complex, difficult questions, we need all the help we can get.   SB 1070 could set a tone that codifies a system of second class citizenship.   It is a concern that compelled Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a man all too familiar with pass laws – to write: 

I am saddened today at the prospect of a young Hispanic immigrant in Arizona going to the grocery store and forgetting to bring her passport and immigration documents with her. I cannot be dispassionate about the fact that the very act of her being in the grocery store will soon be a crime in the state she lives in. Or that, should a policeman hear her accent and form a “reasonable suspicion” that she is an illegal immigrant, she can — and will — be taken into custody until someone sorts it out, while her children are at home waiting for their dinner. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu  


In 1985, two years after the birth of her son in Tucson, Lydia Breen produced and directed the  documentary, “The Lord Is Blessing Me…”about Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson and the decision  members made to declare their church a sanctuary for Central American refugees fleeing the fighting in their region. Reverend John Fife, then Southside’s  minister along with several church members were arrested and convicted of harboring  illegal immigrants. Now retired, John Fife and current pastor, Rev. Alison Harrington, and others at  Southside  say they will refuse to comply with SB1070.