With signs that read “Nosotros Somos Iguales” and “Keep Families Together” as a backdrop, students gathered on the steps of Memorial Church Saturday evening to speak out about comprehensive immigration reform.
Entitled “Out of the Shadows,” the speak-out was organized by the student advocacy group Harvard College Act on a Dream. According to the group, there are roughly 40 undocumented students at the College, with nine potential incoming freshmen who are also undocumented.
At the event, students shared their personal stories to paint a clearer picture of what undocumented citizens look like and describe the many fears that accompany undocumented status.
“Even though I went to a really good university, I still won’t have a job after I graduate,” said Francisco D. Hernandez '13, a psychology student who is scared of not living up to his late mother’s dreams of a better life for him.
Another student read a prepared speech for a peer who preferred to remain anonymous, describing how the insecurity of being both undocumented and queer ultimately led to staying in an abusive relationship and anxiety over being reported to law enforcement by the partner.
The letter also addressed the derogatory and detached language often associated with being undocumented, and noted that immigration status is “not an economic question, but rather [one of] lived narratives.”
In the weeks prior to the speak-out, Act on a Dream hung posters around campus featuring photos of students—some affiliated with the group, some not—marked with the text, “I could be undocumented.”
The campaign is part of Act on a Dream’s coalition with Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania to dispel misconceptions about what it means to be undocumented.
“We really wanted people who came from all kinds of backgrounds [to pose for the posters],” said Andrea Ortiz ’16, co-chair of Act on a Dream. “We had the vice president of PBHA and a freshman who is into ultimate Frisbee.”
Following the speak-out, the group put out a petition in favor of more comprehensive immigration reform. Harvard Law School professor Deborah E. Anker, who works on issues of immigration law, emphasized the significance of the speak-out and campaign in an age where immigration reform is an ongoing and evolving debate.
“You all are redefining not just what civil rights is, but what human rights is,” Anker said. Act on a Dream has identified many flaws in the current move to reform immigration, from the 13-year waiting period in order to gain equal citizenship to the lack of recognition for same-sex couples, according to Anahi D. Mendoza Pacheco ’15, an Act on a Dream member.
“Our political system encourages us to return to Mexico—a place we don’t know,” said Enrique Ramirez ’16. “To those who don’t support immigration reform... try my mom’s enchiladas. Stop dehumanizing.”
—Staff writer Anneli L. Tostar can be reached at email@example.com.