National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Ordinary People and Extraordinary Acts of Courage

June 21, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

FFF Awardee

The heat surrounding the current debate on immigration makes it difficult, and maybe downright dangerous, for the ordinary person who sees the injustices created by our broken immigration system and our Congress’ unwillingness to consider solutions.

Yet, there are plenty of Americans (and Americans-in-waiting) who, sometimes at great personal risk, will stand up to defend the rights of immigrants regardless of their own status and regardless of the personal consequences.  On June 18 at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just over two dozen of these individuals were recognized for their “extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees” in the first “Freedom from Fear” awards.

Many of the awardees are DREAM Act activists, like the long-distance hiking quartet of Gaby Pacheco, Felipe Matos, Juan Rodriguez, and Carlos Roa.  These undocumented DREAM activist students set out from Miami, Florida, on January 1, 2010, on what they called the Trail of DREAMS, a 1,500-mile hike to Washington, DC.  Along the way, they had an opportunity to share their stories with thousands of people, but did so risking arrest and deportation daily.  They made it to Washington, and served as an inspiration for immigration advocates here who fought to push the DREAM Act through a lame duck Congress just before Christmas.

Undocumented worker Osefel Andrade of Anaheim, California, stood up for his rights and those of his coworkers when he filed a lawsuit against his employer, alleging the employer paid substandard wages, harassed workers perceived to be undocumented, and discriminated against Latino workers.  Mr. Andrade was arrested by immigration authorities after filing the lawsuit, and since has continued to fight for the rights of his co-workers while fighting his own deportation.  The case is an example of how unscrupulous employers use the threat of deportation to exploit their undocumented workers.

Retired minister Gene Lefebvre and nurse Sarah Roberts, of Tucson, Arizona, braved the unforgiving climate and geography of the Arizona desert, and the charged atmosphere of Arizona politics, as co-founders of the organization “No More Deaths.”   The organization relies on hundreds of volunteers who walk desert trails near the border with food, water, and medical supplies in an effort to prevent the deaths of migrants crossing the desert into the U.S.

When Antonella Packard of Saratoga Springs, Utah, spoke out in support of a DREAM Act activist who was sent to jail by the office of Senator Orrin Hatch, she was purged from the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly.  That didn’t stop her from speaking out in support of immigrants who she felt were being deprived of their rights.  Her advocacy on behalf of immigrants has made her unpopular with conservative Republicans in her state, where she is now Northwest Director of Somos Repubicans, a Republican Latino outreach group.

The case of Maria Bolanos, of Hyattsville, Maryland, illustrates what’s wrong with Secure Communities, a program operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Ms. Bolanos made a call to the police after an argument with her partner that turned violent.  Instead of protection, Ms. Bolanos was brought to the police station for fingerprinting.  Through the Secure Communities program, her fingerprints were shared with ICE, and she was found to be in the country illegally.  Despite the fact that she faces deportation, she has spoken out against Secure Communities, and has raised awareness about how the program can lead to less secure communities, when police and federal immigration enforcement agents share information.

These are just a few of the remarkable individuals who were recipients of the Freedom from Fear awards.  You can read more about the awardees and the Freedom from Fear Awards in this press release from the Public Interest Projects.

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