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UndocuBus: Putting a Face on Undocumented Immigrants in U.S.

undocubusIt’s an election year, you know, and that means politicos again are looking for any excuse not to discuss immigration policy–unless you count the trite and shameless rhetoric used to pander to each party’s base.

But seriously, now is that special time each quadrennial when political parties host celebrations–part pep rally, part pageantry–to unveil their platforms and to highlight rockstar candidates. However, amid all of the pomp and circumstance and discussion of jobs or family values or the “American dream,” there is a dearth of meaningful dialogue about immigration reform. Why? Because, frankly, neither party knows what to do about it. Immigration reform is–choose your cliché political metaphor–a political football, the third rail of politics, or a can to kick down the road. While our national, elected leaders bloviate in a perfect Midwest diction “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” an action called Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo/No Papers, No Fear, is well-underway in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo (also traveling under the moniker the UndocuBus) is a group of intergenerational, self-outed undocumented immigrants who traveled by bus from Phoenix, Arizona, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to demonstrate outside of the Time Warner Cable Arena during the Democratic National Convention (DNC), stopping in a number of cities across the South along the way. Its purpose? To raise awareness of the injustice and inhumanity created by legislation like Arizona’s S.B. 1070, and to introduce undocumented persons to politicians and an electorate that seemly refer to immigration only in the abstract.

This isn’t just a road trip across the U.S. south. This is a demonstration in the same vein as the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s, organized by civil rights groups like the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Not unlike the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation laws at bus stops and restaurants and whose riders faced intimidation, beatings and arrests in the name of justice; the UndocBus also rides for justice, challenging the public perception of what it means to be a migrant in the United States, calling for a more humane immigration system, and its riders risk harsh treatment and intimidation, too.

Under the mantle, “The only secure community is an organized one!” and by way of protests at state Capitols and county sheriff’s offices, rallies, workshops, and community events, the riders decry the more than 400,000 deportations implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and demand an end to Secure Communities, the program which the riders charge with breaking up families and instilling communities with distrust and fear of local law enforcement. This is no casual feat. By outing themselves as undocumented, the riders take a courageous step: they assert that they won’t be afraid anymore. They won’t fear intimidation, they won’t fear arrest, and they won’t fear hostile conditions.

The Rant –

Even as the Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo tour culminates at the DNC, this isn’t the end of the movement. No, this is a beginning! The UndocuBus has broadened the avenue for migrants to share their testimonies and the testimonies of their comrades without fear of reprisal. (Dreamer Benita Veliz even introduced Cuban talk show host and journalist Cristina Saralegui at the DNC’s Wednesday evening session.)  Kemi Bello, an Undocubus supporter who discovered she was undocumented in high school, describes the movement’s effect in this way: “If people know your story, there’s a community behind you, like, ready to support you, and so the more visible you are, the more protection that you inherently have.” Another response to the courage generated by the movement comes from a photo attached to the UndocuBus Facebook page that reads, “¿Quién dijó miedo?“–Who said we’re afraid?

As more and more undocumented immigrants “come out of the shadows” and join the movement to share their stories; the movement grows, understanding and empathy echoes louder, and the demand for justice becomes so palpable, you can almost feel the universe bending toward justice.

As my friend Rubén always says, ¡Hasta la Victoria!

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