Nuestra Comunidad: Undocumented youth see parallels in MLK’s struggles

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is an inspiration for the fight being waged by young undocumented immigrants, serving as an example to those who are raising their voice and pleading for change in immigration laws and policies. King’s life is particularly relevant in today’s movement, say advocates, which urges the approval of a permanent solution for the millions of Hispanics who were brought to this country as minors.

On the birthday of the Civil Rights leader, the community is awaiting the fate of those individuals who, up until a few months ago, were protected under DACA. The program’s cancellation was announced in September.

King’s Civil Rights movement, however, is an inspiring example for those who continue to fight.

“Where immigrants are now, we know that we are under attack from an agenda that is anti-immigrant and supremacist. I think we need to be inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s: the marches, the strikes, the civil disobedience, all of which taught us that this is the only way for immigrants and immigrants’ rights to be respected,” explained Eduardo Samaniego, a pro-immigrant activist.

In the country’s capital, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, a group of young undocumented immigrants have traveled from Georgia to make their voices heard. The point of their visit is to speak with members of Congress and request the approval of a bill that would provide them a path to citizenship.

“Over the last 48 hours we have met with members of Congress and their teams. We have spoken with them about the urgency of this program. 122 people lose their DACA status every day. After March 5th, it will be 1,400 people every day. So, it’s urgent that we have permanent laws that give us the opportunity to apply for citizenship,” said Marisol Estrada, who last year graduated with a degree in political science from Armstrong State University in Savannah.

Estrada served as a legislative assistant to State Representative Brenda López last year, and now she works as an assistant in a law office. Her dream is to become a lawyer.

“Right now, my dreams are on hold, because my immigration status is also on hold,” lamented Estrada.

More than 700,000 young immigrants were protected under the DACA program, which was launched by former President Barack Obama in 2012. Upon news of its cancelation, those who are eligible have until March 5 to update their status.

For that reason, every passing day becomes more and more urgent for the Dreamers, as they are called. Their request is that a law benefitting this population be approved by January 19th, the date of the looming Government Shutdown.

Estrada was among a group that went with, an advocacy organization for immigration reform, to Washington D.C. to speak with members of Congress in search of a solution.

“All Congress members have expressed that they wish to do something and that they want a permanent solution. We believe that we are in a good position and that Congress understands the urgency of the ‘Dreamers,’” explained Samuel Aguilar, who works with in Georgia.

While Aguilar and his group of activists take the fight for undocumented students to D.C., Daniela Rodríguez is working the battle line in Savannah.

Rodríguez is a psychology student at Armstrong State University and leads the Savannah Undocumented Youth Alliance. For the 23-year-old, completing her college education has been a constant challenge, but through working two jobs and the help of her mother, she has been able to pay her tuition and hopes to graduate this year.

Despite the obstacles she faces, Rodríguez holds a steadfast determination that keeps her fighting, even amidst the troubles of an opportunity that would appear out of reach for people like her. She is resolute, however, to not give up.

Estrada, like Rodríguez, knows that it is not an option to hang up the gloves, and she assures that King’s example has inspired her to believe that finding a solution for undocumented youth is indeed possible. For the young Mexican woman, if she had the opportunity to say something to the Civil Rights leader, she would express gratitude.

“Thank you for not losing hope, because when you read his story and see the obstacles he faced, how he was arrested and was in jail for a long time, he never lost hope,” said Estrada.

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