“People are people no matter where they are born!”
This was just one of the few chants heard on Market Street Thursday evening as members and supporters of DreamActivist Pa., a youth group in support of the DREAM Act, marched in solidarity with the undocumented community.
Around 50 people marched from the Liberty Bell at 5th and Market streets to the United States Courthouse, four blocks away. Students from Penn as well as Temple and Eastern universities attended the rally alongside Philadelphia residents.
Among them were Penn students who are undocumented, including Engineering freshman Alfredo Muniz and Wharton sophomore Tania Chairez.
Chairez, who publicly declared her undocumented status in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column on Oct. 12, shared personal stories and racism encounters with the crowd.
Other undocumented youth shared stories of families being torn apart, evoking emotion from the crowd and Muniz.
“I’m undocumented, so the stories aren’t that exhilarating for me but there were a couple of ones that almost made me cry,” he said.
Rep. Tony Payton (D-Phila.) of the 179th Legislative District who introduced the Pennsylvania DREAM Act — which would offer undocumented high-school graduates in-state tuition for Pennsylvania state colleges under specific conditions — also made an appearance at the event.
“We organized this event to call out President Obama for not owning up to his word and continuing to deport individuals who are supposed to be of low priority,” DreamActivist Pa. Media Contact Pamela Linares said.
Since President Barack Obama took office, the government has deported more than one million people — a number that exceeds that of the Bush administration, according to Jessica Lee, a speaker at the event and a student at Bryn Mawr College.
One protester held a sign, mimicking a tweet, that read, “1 million plus Deportations, Obama = #DeporterinChief.”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 396,906 people last year, according to Adam Goodman, a history doctoral candidate from Penn who spoke at the rally.
“Despite the importance of statistics and informing ourselves, we have to move beyond that, we have to humanize the issue,” said Goodman, who studies the history of deportation. “This is not an issue without a face or a name.”
There is no legal consequence for coming out as an undocumented youth at rallies like this, Linares said.
“They are doing nothing wrong by coming out at a rally that we have permits for and organized in the right way,” she said, adding that there is no reason for undocumented individuals to be afraid and no reason to be in the shadows.
However, run-ins with the police through minor criminal offenses such as traffic violations and immigration checks can put undocumented individuals at risk for deportation, Goodman said.
Payton said he proposed the Pennsylvania DREAM Act partly because immigrants are hard-working people who have created strong communities in the United States.
“A lot of my colleagues are wasting our time sweating for legislation that would demonize people rather than voting for the DREAM Act,” he said.
During the march, shouts of “education not deportation” and “undocumented, unafraid” echoed through the streets.
“Everybody deserves a chance, especially students who are trying to get a better life and a better education. They have worked hard to get where they are,” College junior Luis Aguilar said.
College freshman Brendan Van Gorder joined Aguilar and other Penn students at the rally.
“I know that people don’t decide where they’re born,” Van Gorder said.
“Those of us who teach know that every school depends on the energy, the intelligence and courage of its students — all of its students,” Penn History professor Ann Farnsworth-Alvear told the crowd.
She added that students who have gone on to college have “already contributed to communities where they have lived and studied.”
Chairez urged students to be knowledgeable of both sides of the argument on immigration and hopes to educate her peers on the issue.
“I want Penn students to get involved,” she said.