Approximately two dozen Penn students gathered on College Green on Nov. 9 to participate in the National Day of Action for a Clean Dream Act, which inspired walkouts and protests at 30 schools and 10 states across the country.
United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led nonprofit organization, spearheaded this initiative. A representative reached out last week to College junior Aiden Castellanos-Pedroza, the community organizing chair of Penn for Immigrant Rights, to invite PIR to organize a walkout at Penn.
Of the students present, some were undocumented, some were protected by government programs, and some were just there to stand in solidarity. They listened to fellow students discuss why this cause is important to them as individuals and as part of a larger immigrant community.
“As we’re here, a year after Trump being elected, we want to be able to allow ourselves to speak up," Castellanos-Pedroza said as he addressed the students at the start of the demonstration. "Especially in cases where our voices aren’t ever really acknowledged. Especially in a place and [at] an institution as oppressive as Penn that has done a lot to gentrify [the] West Philadelphia neighborhood.”
In past weeks, hundreds of people nationwide have called on Congress to pass a stand-alone Clean Dream Act in response to Trump's reversal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by Dec. 15, which marks the end of the 2017 congressional session.
PIR Media Liaison and College sophomore Erik Vargas spoke to the group about how the repeal of DACA, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainments, and police brutality have been infringing on the rights of immigrants in the United States.
Vargas said there needs to be a push for “radical work” to counter radical actions by authority figures. He encouraged students to be involved in local initiatives that empower the immigrant community, citing Juntos — a community-led, Latino immigrant organization in Philadelphia — as a resource.
Vargas also invited students to speak out about their connection to the issue.
When Vargas invited students to share their own thoughts, DACA-protected College freshman Ale Cabrales encouraged the audience to keep the conversation alive.
"Sometimes we forget," Cabrales said. "We heard the announcement about DACA and then everybody was quiet. This is my reality everyday, so please, please, please, be vocal about this everyday."
“It’s not just an issue of crime as many people frame it to be,” College sophomore Adiel Izilov said, stepping onto the Benjamin Franklin statue. “It’s an issue of the government admittedly taking a stance against immigrants."
Izilov, who immigrated from Israel, entered the United States through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which the Trump administration announced it would end.
“I am documented,” PIR Scholarship Chair and College sophomore Miranda Ribeiro-Vecino said. “But I have had experiences with the bureaucracy that goes along with it because I’m not a citizen of this country. I couldn’t even begin to imagine, if I’m documented and even I was frustrated by it, I couldn’t even imagine being undocumented and having to deal with that.”
She also spoke about the influence that Penn students have in Philadelphia, in which there is a large immigrant population.
“We’re in a position of power,“ Ribeiro-Vecino said. “We go to Penn. We can speak up for [undocumented youth] and we should.”
Toward the end of the walkout, Castellanos-Pedroza led a call-and-response chant written by Assata Shakur, a prominent activist in the Black Power movement.
“It is our duty to fight for freedom," the chant began. "It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."