Together with the undocumented youth network DreamActivist PA, rising Wharton junior Tania Chairez will be protesting today against Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Norristown, Pa. for its cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Chairez, who was arrested in March after blocking traffic in front of the ICE Philadelphia office, first came out as an undocumented immigrant in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column called “Undocumented and unapologetic.” DreamActivist PA advocates for the rights of immigrant communities in support of the DREAM Act, a federal bill introduced in 2001 that is designed to create a path to citizenship for students who are undocumented.
The protest is against a contract that the facility — which is located about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia — formed with ICE to set aside up to 60 beds for undocumented immigrants. A memo by DreamActivist PA said several undocumented youth would risk arrest by making their immigration status public in protest of the facility’s new space to hold undocumented immigrants as detainees for ICE as a source of unexpected revenue.
“They are protesting the wrong people,” said Frank Custer, communications director of the Montgomery County Office of Communications. “Our decision to contract with ICE to temporarily house immigrants who are about to be deported, and are here for no more than 24 to 72 hours, in no way indicates our position on the whole immigration question.”
Custer added that “if they were not housed in Montgomery County they would be housed elsewhere. In these tough economic times, we are just trying to maximize income potential without trying to burden the taxpayer.”
The protest comes just after President Obama’s announcement about immigration policy reform on June 15. Under the new policy, DREAM Act-eligible youth will no longer be deported and will be allowed to obtain work permits.
The Department of Homeland Security specified that this policy will apply to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. under the age of 16 and are currently under 30, continuously lived in the U.S. for at least five years, are in school or have graduated from high school or attained a GRE, are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces, or have not been convicted of felonies or significant misdemeanors or otherwise pose a threat to public safety.
“The only thing that is different now is that when we apply for deferred action, we can do it affirmatively, I don’t have to be in deportation proceedings to apply,” Chairez said. “Once you apply for deferred action, you can apply for a work permit, which will be really really useful.”
Chairez added that she remains cautious of the reform. “The official reaction nationwide from the National Immigration Youth Alliance is that we’re going to see if it is effective, and if it is not effective, then they are going to re-occupy the Obama for America office,” she said.
Obama’s immigration policy reform was followed by the Supreme Court decision this Monday on SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration act, which would set the precedent for other states’ anti-illegal immigration legislation.
The court did not strike down the controversial “show me your papers” provision, which requires police to check the immigration status of someone suspected to be undocumented. However, the court ruled against provisions that required all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, made it a state criminal offense for illegal immigrants to look for or have a job and allowed for suspected illegal immigrants to be arrested by police without a warrant.
“My first reaction was I just really wanted to cry,” said Chairez, who lived in Phoenix for 12 years. She also said the portion of the act that held would allow for continued racial profiling in the state. “I didn’t consider this a victory.”