Tuesday, October 29, 2013

She was just like family.

Domestic workers in the U.S. are increasingly immigrant women who fill low-wage jobs providing care work and household duties for middle-class working families. These women come to the U.S. from all over the world—the Philippines, Mexico, and the Caribbean to make a better life for themselves and their children.
As a potential double-major in Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale, I am interested in the narratives of these women, who often undergo physical and verbal abuse from their employers and have little political rights.
To speak frankly, I did not grow up in an affluent family. I was born and raised in Oakland, Calif. to immigrant working-class parents. I never had a nanny. Rather, mom and dad would work alternate shifts to look after us while making sure there was food on the table. I am one of three children at the time (I am a twin) - looking back at it now, it was a miracle for a small family struggling to survive. My mother relied on aunts and relatives to care for us when dad was at work and couldn’t, but she could never afford to pay for consistent day care.
Women in the immigrant neighborhood around me readily participated in the informal sector; they sold food on the weekends, cared for other people’s children, and were seamstresses in an effort to make ends meet. I grew up seeing these women struggling, facing an unequal burden men often did not face - they had to simultaneously care for and provide for their families. It didn’t matter if they had a part-time or full-time job. At the end of the day, they were still expected to put food on the table and care for the children.
For that reason, I was shocked to discover many of my classmates had nannies growing up. Sitting in seminar, I heard most people speak about the domestic workers their families employed; the immigrant woman who cared for them as children, the house servant who did the errands. Who could forget the Mexican gardener who got deported? Not to fret; he came back!
           I was speechless. These were smart people advocating for women’s rights in seminar, yet they perpetuated the same racist stereotypes they criticized. It was different, they insisted. They were like family. Family who didn’t deserve a fair pay, political rights, and lived in constant fear of deportation. Family who worked around the clock, who beckoned to your every call, who could not stand up to injustices because they relied on you and your family to survive. Just like any other family member.
           The truth is that domestic workers are a vulnerable population, the creation of middle- and upper-class families who depend on the labor of poor migrants to climb up the social ladder themselves. Domestic workers have filled the domestic sphere many working American women have long abandoned. That is to say, as we American women have become liberated, it has often happened at the expense of others - women who must care for other people’s children to provide for their own.
           I will not defend that it is inherently women’s natural responsibility to care for their children and family. I believe both parents should equally share the burden of the welfare for the family. But this idea is difficult to make function in the real world. We simply live in a world embedded with gender binaries that feminizes care for the family.
I was very hopeful when this past September, when California passed Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (AB241). This bill provides overtime protection for domestic workers, which The Nation estimates will benefit 200,000 workers in the state. AB241 is a groundbreaking bill that makes California the third state in nation to give domestic workers such protection. This triumph was years in the making, only made possible through lobbying and various community efforts.
Sometimes it’s easier to speak about an idealized world, to sit in a class and read articles on various injustices around the world. It’s easy when you can gloss over your involvement in the systems that perpetuate these inequalities and normalize the racial and class hierarchies that grant you the privileges you do not acknowledge. I hope other states will join California in providing legislation like AB241 to finally acknowledge this problem.

-Gloria "Jack" Mejia-Cuellar
East Coast Chicano Student Forum Representative, MEChA de Yale 
Yale '16

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Animal Kingdom Responds to Immigration Reform

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS- Following yesterday’s press conference about the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the Animal Kingdom expressed mixed reactions to the proposed immigration bill.

Some animals said that the immigration reform proposal would benefit the country; others said that the border security measures stipulated by the proposal would harm recent animal immigrants.

“The immigration reform makes it harder for me,” stated a Mexican Spiny-tailed iguana. “I cross the border every day to pick edible fruit in the United States. If they build a wall between the United States and Mexico, I won’t be able to cross like normal. I will have to climb the stupid wall.”

But other members of the lizard community expressed satisfaction with the bill’s border security measures, saying that they would prevent further illegal immigration into the United States.

“I think it is a good idea,” declared a Gila Monster labor leader. “We have to patrol the border with drones and build an electric wall so that no Mexican Spiny-tailed iguanas will come in to take our American Gila Monster jobs.”

The Gila Monster community was more adamant about the bill’s citizenship clause, which states that “some animals are more equal than others”. Many Gila Monsters demanded more stringent citizenship policies to punish the Mexican Spiny-tailed iguanas for having entered the United States illegally.

“They’re Mexican, not American!” exclaimed one Gila Monster, ignoring the fact that his Gila Monster ancestors emigrated from northern Mexico ten years ago.

 Despite some vocal opposition to the citizenship clause, most members of the Animal Kingdom agreed that the bill would fix the sluggish and broken immigration system. The new bill would eliminate the backlog of immigration applications and strengthen the E-Verify employment system, penalizing employers who hire undocumented animals.

“Hey! We’re not like the system!” shouted an unhappy garden snail. “We came here to work and to earn a living for our slug families. We’re not criminals.”

 Like the snail, millions of other animals hope that the immigration reform bill will pass the House and Senate, which are dominated by the Elephants and the Donkeys, respectively. Except for a few Elephants, both groups have publicly endorsed the bill.

“To the people who think that immigration reform is unnecessary, I say: you’re fucking crazy,” stated Senator Dumbo the Elephant in another press conference. “Immigration reform will put some money in our government’s pocket, create new jobs, and put our unemployed drones to work.”

But comments like these were not well received by the monarch butterfly community, which is known to ignore international immigration laws.

“I don’t like the idea that the government will use drones to shoot down our people,” said a worried monarch butterfly. “I know that everyone is happy about legalization and stuff, but you know what? We were here before any Elephants were brought to the continent. We were here before the Donkeys ferried white settlers across the Great Plains and took our nesting places away. We were here before the lizards drove us into nets, ate our children, and destroyed our sacred habitat. We’re the only legal ones! We were here first! We were here first!”

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is expected to affect at least 56 million monarch butterflies, 11 million spiny-tailed iguanas, 78 million garden snails, and an unspecified number of Mexican coyotes. The House of Representatives will vote on the bill next week.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Under Review

I am not a typical immigrant. Seventeen years ago, my parents brought me to the United States on an 18-wheeler tire that they pushed across the Rio Grande. I hardly remember it, but my parents tell me that we reached the shores of El Paso, only to be detained and deported by US Customs and Border Protection. End of story? We crossed the border again 24 hours later, under cover of darkness. La migra didn’t arrive to round us up like pigs this time. My parents hid me and my brother Misael among prickly shrubs until a van came to pick us up. A coyote gave us plane tickets to Dallas (airport security was lax in the 1990s), and we flew away from El Paso, de volada, as quickly as we could; I suppose la migra didn’t understand our aversion to waiting.   
            That was not my last experience with the US immigration system. I sat in the back of an SUV at the age of seven, fidgety and frustrated as our vehicle chugged along the Laredo Bridge System’s monstrous traffic. The two people in the front of the SUV pretended to by my parents; my mother and brother, who sat beside me, passed off as my aunt and my cousin, respectively. I was petulant during the six hour journey from Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo, and I was also annoyed when the coyote in the driver’s seat would ask me what my name was. I knew what I had to say: My name is Robert. This is my aunt. This is my cousin. These are my parents. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t use my real name. I didn’t comprehend that crossing the Laredo Bridge with a fake identity was the only way to get into the United States safely, and that crossing the bridge was better than wading neck-deep through the Rio Grande. But I did think that it was better to lie about my name than to be left behind like my youngest brother Paul, whom we left under my grandparents’ care back in San Luis Potosi. Paul was an American citizen and could easily get into the United States. He didn’t have to lie about his name. As I thought about these things, the SUV painstakingly moved a few more meters, like an ant amidst a swarming colony. I felt like screaming.  
Our SUV finally reached the immigration checkpoint. A Customs officer in a Ranger Smith green uniform gestured for us to stop. El coyote pulled down the window and greeted the officer.
“Immigration papers, please,” the officer instructed.
“Certainly,” el coyote calmly answered, handing over his prepared documents.
“What’s the purpose of your visit, sir?”
“Vacationing,” el coyote said.
“Very well. Move along.”
 I held my breath the entire time, avoiding the ranger’s gaze. He didn’t notice tiny me fidgeting nervously next to my mother. El coyote rolled up the window, and the gates opened. As the SUV accelerated forward, I stopped twitching. At least until we arrived at the next checkpoint.  
             I wasn’t as fidgety during the next twelve years, but I was as tired and as trapped as a parakeet in a golden cage. I never left the United States. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. I couldn’t go to Mexico to see my grandparents and my relatives. I couldn’t go abroad without having to pay more than four hundred dollars in advance parole application fees. I couldn’t become an American citizen after more than twelve years of undocumented residence in this country. I took extraordinary measures to take care of myself. When I was admitted to Yale, I skipped class to get a passport from the Mexican Consulate, so I could fly to Connecticut. When my Academic Decathlon team won the regional championship, I couldn’t go with my teammates to El Paso for the State Finals; I never would have gotten past the checkpoints outside of the city.  I waited for some legislation to come along and make traveling and working easier, but nothing productive came out of Congress or the Oval Office. Trust me: I tried to get permanent residence. I swear. But the immigration filing process is the equivalent of a bloated slug, which means to say, the whole process is not worth the money and the time. My mother, for example, requested a visa in 2001; it has been twelve years, and her case is still “Under Review”. Her visa had to be requested by a close relative- her brother- who is a US citizen. My brother Paul wasn’t yet old enough to request one for me. So I had the following options:
1.     Have a company petition the United States Customs and Immigration Services for my visa.
2.     Leave the country and apply for reentry.
3.     Marry a US citizen.
A company would not have hired me, unless I were a Canadian singing prodigy, which, sadly, I was not. Leaving the United States and applying for re-entry was out of the question; I would have had to abandon my Texan home, forsake my American education, and wait a decade in Mexico for permission to return. Given the odds of ever hearing back from USCIS, (I was more likely to be killed by a Zeta hit-man than to be granted immigration to the US) I decided to stay in Dallas. And as for marrying a US citizen, I convinced my girlfriend to grant me that special favor; it was too bad she broke up with me a year after she promised to make me an American citizen…
            I didn’t like waiting for things to happen. I needed to work after my freshman year of college, and the only way I could do that was to get a fake Social Security number. My mother dialed up a document forger, and within a day I had in my hands a gray-blue Social Security card and a green Permanent Resident card, faster than USCIS could have ever supplied. But they were only temporary solutions; E-Verify ensured that I was rejected by most companies, and I was only able to get employment within an immigrant-dependent industry: electrical wiring. So I worked as a residential wireman during the summer and hoped for my legal status to change, bidding my time until the suited men and women on Capitol Hill and the White House would notice that the immigration slug needed some speed.
            I was keeping my balance on a ladder, vigorously screwing in a light fixture in the upper bedroom of a Preston Hollow house in northern Dallas, when I heard my father shout something from downstairs. I went down to see what the fuss was about. My father stood near the stairway, phone in hand, a smile on his face.
            “Your uncle called me. There’s good news.”
            What he told me wasn’t exactly the greatest news ever, but it was a start. President Obama had announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which would grant me asylum in the United States. When my father finished telling me the good news, he smiled. A tentative smile. He knew that this program did not address his legal status; because the White House thought that legalizing undocumented minors would be earn it some votes from Latinos, only my brother Misael and I directly benefitted from DACA. My father had lived in the United States far longer than I had, and yet he was excluded from DACA. It was unfair.
            “At least there is hope,” he said, his smile unfading. For my dad, there was hope that immigration reform would not stop at DACA. I earnestly hoped so. I smiled back, and then I walked up the stairs to the bedroom I was working in, climbed the ladder, and recommenced screwing in the unfinished fixture.

Three months later, I was in Hartford on a wet and windy workday. Thick drops dripped from my umbrella and moistened my sweater, my shoes sloshing through gray puddles as I trudged along Main Street. I had an appointment with USCIS at 1 PM. I arrived 4 hours early because the New Haven-Hartford Express Bus did not offer service after 8:21 AM, and I didn’t want to risk missing my appointment. So I was stranded in the city until one o’clock. I took refuge from the rain in a café at One Constitution Plaza, where I ordered some hot tea and I sat down to do some homework. CNN news anchors burbled political opinions from the TV in front of me. People monotonously chattered in the background. I grew restless. Here I was, a nineteen-year-old immigrant who had skipped class and woken up at seven in the morning and travelled 39 miles to Hartford just to get his fingerprints scanned. I was tired, soaked, and sleepy. Why did the process have to be so hard? I tried to contain my frustration and concentrate on my reading assignments. After an hour at the café, I went out into the rain. Everything moved slowly in the blanketing spray from the traffic, umbrellas bumping into each other like leaves in a choked stream. More rain. I walked around downtown for two hours, and then I returned to One Constitution Plaza to wait for a bus to East Hartford. I stood in the rain for another half hour. At last, the bus arrived. I clung to the inner railings as people crammed into it, the bus slicked with mud and water. This is the immigration system, I thought.   
Twenty minutes later, I got off the bus and trekked half a mile to the USCIS field office. An attendant instructed me to disinfect my hands and gave me a form to fill out. I was given a number and told to sit in a waiting area. A plasma TV blurted American history facts and immigration oddities. The Mayflower. The Statue of Liberty. The good old Red, White, and Blue.  I wonder how long the people on Ellis Island had to wait. Did they remain undocumented? How did they become citizens? Someone called my number. A young bespectacled USCIS officer stood at a booth next to a scanner, expecting me. I went.
“Place your hand on the scanner,” he ordered.
The officer pressed my hand onto the scanner, a little more forcefully than I expected. The machine beeped and displayed the word “Failed”. So the scanner can’t read my fingerprints. Great. Just great. The officer sprayed disinfectant on my hand, rubbed it with a Kleenex, and pressed my fingers onto the scanner’s cold, smooth surface. The machine beeped again. Damn it. The officer tried the procedure once more. Spray. Rub. Press. Repeat. Ten minutes passed before the machine clicked and displayed the word “Passed”. I sighed.
“Sir, please look at the camera,” the officer said. A flash. My eyes glazed over for a second.
“Okay, you’re all set. Fill out this Customer Service evaluation, and you can be on your way.”
I filled it out. And as I left the field office, I felt relieved, as if I had crawled out of those prickly shrubs, or as if I had squirmed my way out of that SUV. I was free to go home, and I would receive my documents in a month. . I headed toward the exit and went out once more into the fountain pouring from the sky. I opened my umbrella. How freely did it open!

No, I am not a typical immigrant. I am, as of April 2013, a legal temporary immigrant worker. My parents are still undocumented. My brother still awaits legalization. DACA remains in place and an immigration reform bill is in the making, but the immigration slug remains as slow as ever. I feel optimistic, but I suspect that the next immigration program will have flaws. After all, don’t we hate to see our friends and family in limbo? Don’t we hate to stand in line to get our passports and our permits? Don’t we hate to wait days and months and years for things to happen? When immigration reform arrives-if indeed it ever arrives-will the wait be worth it?

Monday, March 11, 2013

A community unafraid

One community speaking out against unjust laws.

That’s what I saw when I was part of the Keeping Families Together Bus tour on March 3rd. The tour, which took immigrant families around the country to share their stories of struggle, was making its last round of appearances on the East Coast before going to Washington D.C.

One of the stories that touched me the most was one by Sandra, a young woman from Honduras who spoke about her hope for education. Her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child. She was an average student who found her joy in school. But when senior year came, Sandra was scared of life after high school--without papers she didn’t qualify for federal aid and faced paying triple the tuition at in-state universities than other students had to pay. Dropping out of high school and getting a job was becoming an increasingly likely option. But with  the passage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Sandra was able to obtain a work permit and received a scholarship to attend college.

Although Sandra’s story was amazing, it was an exception. Sandra’s story reminded me of my high school classmates, many of which were brought to the US in their youth who were not eligible for DACA. Their situation remains unaddressed by the government, their needs and aspirations for a better life through education unmet. Being ineligible for federal aid made going to college a nearly impossible burden to bear for their families. It was enough to dissuade them to put their dreams on hold.

Current mainstream rhetoric puts the blame on the immigrant parents for bringing their children illegally to the states, but they refuse to acknowledge the external factors that force people to immigrate in the first place. They overlook the civil wars, the poverty, the corruption of their own governments that force families to migrate to the U.S. in hopes giving their children a better life. Although DACA is a step forward for our country, it’s scope is very limited. Our country is need of comprehensive immigration reform for all members of the family.

The second woman to speak was an undocumented mother who spoke of a broken system that made her life as a mother and as an immigrant impossible. She awoke one morning and realized that her toddler was sick. Scared, the mother realized could not drive her child to the doctor because she was did not have a license. If she drove to the hospital without a license, she risked being arrested and possibly deported. “Tenia un carro, pero no lo podia usar,” she said in Spanish. (
I had a car but could not use it.) She had to rush to the bus stop, sick child in arms and two-year old baby in tow, to go to the hospital.

What if it had been a serious illness? What if she had not made it to the hospital in time all because of her immigration status did not allow her to drive? No parent should experience this helplessness in an emergency.

¿Qué pasara con mis hijos si me fuera, si me deportaran?" the mother asked in Spanish. "What would happen to my children if I left?” Her question was haunting. This rally brought to light many questions that are not addressed in mainstream discourse on immigration legislation. The silence on this issue is astounding. According to a ColorLines news report from 2011, 46,000 immigrant parents were deported under the Obama administration from January to June 2011.

We have created a system that is quick to overlook the contradictions of enforcing harsh anti-immigrant legislation all the while depending on an underground economy and the exploitation of undocumented labor.

Despite being a lawful member of society, despite contributing to the economy, as an immigrant one always runs the risk of being deported. One always lived in fear. Fear of asking for help, fear of challenging authority who violated basic rights. The fear of knowing everything they worked so hard to build in this new country could all be lost with single phone call, left in the dust behind a white ICE van. Fear. Destabilizing, debilitating fear they face everyday, a fear that must be overcome to continue living, to continue dreaming.

What was most inspiring for me was that these women and their families were essentially fearless. They stood before a supportive community, before organization-heads, before pesky and clueless reporters and cameras who could never understand their experiences, to tell their stories. They were unafraid.

The Keeping Families Together tour showed that immigration is multifaceted. Immigration is not the face of only one individual. It isn’t a student, it isn’t a mother, it isn’t a child or a farm worker. It is a community and when they speak we must listen, legislators and communities alike.

-Gloria "Jack" Mejia-Cuellar
East Coast Chicano Student Forum Representative, MEChA de Yale 
Yale '16

Photos by Kim Mejia-Cuellar

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Becoming Latina/o

The acceptance of my ethnic heritage is a personal triumph that is paradoxically linked to the racial marginalization MEChA counteracts on a regular basis. Growing up, I deliberately chose not to identify as Latino, fearing negative associations and wanting the social ease I linked with being “white”. Having a fair complexion, in the context of majoritarian skin-based racial constructions, gave me the freedom to project my preferred racial identity. The customs of my people were archaic remnants of a culture rendered inadequate by those around me. When people assumed I was white, I never corrected them.
            Coming to Yale radically altered my stagnant perceptions of race and ethnicity. I came to understand the multiple ways in which people expressed their Latina/o identity beyond my internalized white-brown-black paradigm. My classes taught me the dynamics of skin-based privilege and the Latinas/os I met gave me the courage to define my own identity and not allow inaccurate and pervasive racial categories to dictate my actions.
            Another aspect of coming to New Haven that propelled me to dismantle my previous conceptions of Latinidad came from the scarcity of students and professors who identified as Hispanic, and on a larger scale, the vast inequalities prevalent in the local community. Being at Yale provided me with ample opportunity to engage in acts that worked to dispel racial adversity. I began to see my Latina/o identity as not only something to be proud of, but also as a constant reminder of why the fight against oppression needs to continue.
            I have come to see academia as my place in ameliorating the racial inequalities that exist in society. By becoming a professor, I hope to utilize my formative experiences with race and ethnicity in ways that give agency to communities that continue to receive harsh regulation. The opportunity to study and conduct research on subjects like the social phenomena that engendered my sense of Latinidad would be incredible. As daunting as the task may be, I aspire to add my voice to the collective knowledge of esteemed trailblazers and look for new ways to interpret racial identity.  
-Christofer Rodelo

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To Astronaut, or not to Astronaut?

Growing up I wanted to be a plethora of things. I wanted to become a news anchor and be just like Diane Sawyer or Robin Roberts… until I learned that meant traveling to war torn areas or disaster zones. Being a true Californian, I thought I would want to be come a seismologist… but then I decided I would much rather not spend my time thinking about our impending doom and the nightmare of “The Big One”. I thought maybe an astronaut would suit me well… until I learned that there was no oxygen in space.

            I have always been fascinated by science and arithmetic, I was the kid who would toss dolls aside and instead spend my time on “crystal growing kits” and watching ZOOM on PBS. Even now, my friends know my as the one who has watched every NOVA and BBC Horizon documentary and shares the juicy details of what I learned in genetics with them (whether they want to hear about mutated flies with eyes all over their bodies or not). It wasn’t until 5th grade that I started to honestly consider a career in the medical field. Most of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time going in and out of hospitals because many of my family members suffer from various illnesses. I’ve always looked up to those in the medical field with awe; they were magical beings dedicated to trying to help and cure those around them! I could think of no other career that I would enjoy more.

            In 2006 I unfortunately lost an uncle to brain cancer, but I never forgot the courage and strength which with he kept fighting. He had a dream of opening a clinic in my family’s town in Mexico for all those who did not have the financial means to afford medication and treatments. Although he is no longer with us, I remember his love of life, pure heart, and his dream; it is he who inspired me to follow a career as a neurosurgical oncologist. When it came time to apply to colleges, I proudly wrote neurosurgical oncologist on all my applications. It seemed so easy then! “In a little over a decade, I will be a surgeon,” I thought, “I’ll just take the classes I need to take and that’s all, it’ll be easy!”

….And then I got to college. It suddenly wasn’t as easy as it once seemed, the amount of work and readings were slowly starting to get to me. For a bit I even wondered if this path was for me. My grades weren’t as good as in high school and the material didn’t come to me as easily either. “What are you doing Cynthia??” I would tell myself as I struggled over my p-sets.

Then I started volunteering as a Spanish interpreter at Haven Free Clinic, a clinic that offers free consultations and low-cost medications to a predominantly working-class Latino community on Saturday mornings. During the appointments many would begin to tell me a bit of their life stories, the struggles they had to endure to get to the United States to experience El Sueño Americano. However, once they arrived here, the US wasn’t as wonderful as they had imagined. They were working dangerous, minimum wage jobs while trying to support a family, and their bodies had to suffer the consequences. At the clinic, I was able to see first hand, the consequences of a difficult and often unjust country.

            As they leave the consultation room, I’ve had a few people give me hugs and tell me not give up on my dream because I was an inspiration for their children. It seemed kind of weird that 17 year old me could be an inspiration for anyone because I’ve done nothing, and what I have done has been with the help and support of dozens of others. The family, friends, teachers, counselors and many more who have had their own struggles to overcome in this country.

            I think part of the reason why I love working at the clinic so much is because no matter how hard my week has been, how bad my quiz grades were, or how little sleep I’ve had, I know that in the long run all of my efforts will pay off and I will finally be able to give back to all those who have made it possible for me to be where I am today. So regardless of how difficult college “seems” at times, I know I’ll get there because no matter how bad things are, there are others who have it much, much worse.

            I am proud to say that I am the product of several generations of hardworking people who with blood, sweat, and tears have been able to build a better life for themselves. My family’s efforts are finally paying off, and I hope that one day, I will be able to help cure and treat those who have not been so lucky by lightening the load of their worries so that one day their kids can have the luxury of choosing whether they want to be an astronaut, or seismologist, or news anchor.   

Now, back to studying! :)

Con MEChA amor,
Cynthia Campos

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Support of Josemaria Islas: A Letter to the Public Advocate for ICE

Andrew Lorenzen-Strait
Office of the Public Advocate
Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St. SW, Suite 5255
Washington, D.C. 20024

February 11, 2013

RE: Mr. Josemaria Islas, A#205-497-397

Dear Andrew Lorenzen-Strait:

On behalf of MEChA de Yale, I urge you to review and close the deportation case of Mr. Islas before his removal hearing on February 21, 2013. He is a valued member of the New Haven, Connecticut community, and his detention has caused widespread outcry in our state.

MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantíl Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano Student Movement) is a social justice organization focused primarily on issues affecting Hispanic communities both locally and nationally. Nationally, there are upwards of 300 MEChA chapters, from the East Coast to Texas to California and Colorado. In the Yale University chapter alone we have more than 40 members, and our mailing list reaches over 150 Yale undergraduates, professors, and administrators each week. Here in New Haven, MEChA de Yale has focused on racial profiling, education reform, wage theft and immigration reform, by participating in meetings at Mayor DeStefano’s office, organizing large rallies, writing for the Yale Daily News and regularly hosting panels with other Yale groups such as the Yale College Democrats and the Black Student Alliance at Yale to raise campus awareness.

We have met Mr. Islas (he is also scheduled to speak at a panel on immigration reform being held at Yale in two weeks) and we are shocked and angered that he is still in the deportation process. Mr. Islas is innocent of committing any crime, and he is the last person we should be spending taxpayer’s dollars on to deport. This is why we will all be out in full force at his hearing next Thursday in Hartford to support him and his family in this difficult, frightening and upsetting time.

Mr. Islas exemplifies the hard-working immigrant who has put down roots in our community. He has lived with his family in New Haven for eight years. He has worked steadily for the last four years at a factory, while financially supporting his sister, nephews and niece, with whom he lives.

We are deeply troubled that Mr. Islas is in deportation proceedings because he was racially profiled, arrested and jailed for a crime that he did not commit. The stated goal of Secure Communities is to deport criminals, not innocent people wrongly accused like Mr. Islas. He and his family have suffered enough.

Furthermore, Mr. Islas’s removal would make it clear that Connecticut immigrants cannot feel safe interacting with the police. We want the public to feel safe contacting police, especially to report crimes. His removal would be disastrous for this state, not to mention for his family and his large community of supporters.

President Obama is now advocating for a path to citizenship for the millions of people just like Mr. Islas who may have entered or stayed in the United States without permission but otherwise have contributed to society and abided by the law. We believe that Mr. Islas’s significant contributions to our community, his ties to family in Connecticut, and his non-existent criminal record outweigh any civil immigration infractions he may have committed.

We urge you again to grant Prosecutorial Discretion in Mr. Islas’s case.


Katherine Aragón, President, MEChA de Yale

(General letter template from Unidad Latina en Acción)