Undocumented and Unafraid

Janeth Silva


President Obama’s announcement that he will grant work permits and freedom from potential deportation to thousands of undocumented immigrant youth was a victory for human rights and partial payoff for the activism of undocumented youth across the nation. Having deported more undocumented immigrants than any president in recent memory, Obama’s administration has a lot to answer for.  Although the terms will only be in effect for two years (and offers no path to citizenship like the Dream Act) and applies exclusively to youth under 30, it will have an immediate impact on Women’s Leadership Project students like Janeth Silva.  Janeth is the first in her family to go to college and has worked diligently to raise private funding to begin Cal State University Los Angeles in the fall.  In her recent article “Undocumented and Unafraid” she said:

“AB-540 students, like myself, are a particularly vulnerable population in this dysfunctional education system because it is completely legal to discriminate us. Two years ago, my councilor, Ms. Mason-Lockett, scheduled me into the most challenging courses available at my school. By the end of my junior year she took notice of how easily I excelled and began summoning me out of class to help me chart my path to college. I remember, she once turned to me with uncharacteristic excitement and proclaimed, ‘Janeth, you’re not just ready to go to college, you have the grades to go to a top UC!.’ She, then turn her computer screen towards me and point out all my A’s and B’s. It was her exaggerated enthusiasm that caught me off guard. Ms. Mason-Lockett is infamous for her standoffish demeanor. I became excited too! She would paint me beautiful pictures where UC Berkeley or UC Davis were just waiting for me to step onto their campus. All of this was very flattering and made me feel good about myself. Without hesitation she invited me to be part of her new program for academically gifted students. Everything was going great until she asked me for my social security number and I informed her I didn’t have one. She would never again summon me in to her office or try to help me step on to that road to college, she once had assured me I was destined for. I never imagined that discrimination could be such a painful mix of sadness, anger, and powerlessness. From one moment to the next my legal status had some how rendered all of my years in gifted programs, hard earned certificates, and other accomplishments non-existent.”


Undocumented and Unafraid

7 thoughts on “Undocumented and Unafraid

  1. 1

    The president is granting nothing. He is merely acknowledging the law as it is written by congress; a congress that was in session before his election.

    While I and many others agree with his sense of justice, he had little to do with it besides giving it the imprimatur of the current White House.

    It was a previous congress that gave favor to law abiding immigrants in order to justify more draconian approbation against those who were not being “proper citizens” and curry the favor of anti-immigration voter blocs. Politics as usual though this time with some positive results concerning people looking to better themselves and be part of a larger bloc, this nation and to build a better life for themselves. My country is made up of immigrants and their offspring. I am one of them.

    I honor the president’s sentiments and am fully in favor of extending favor to new aspirants to citizenship who show personal motivation to contribute to the benefit of this country. In no way, however, is this boon extended by Obama. It was a done deal before his administration assumed power. Those who credit or blame him for his acceptance of established law are either beating a drum or ill informed.

    In any case, it is not within the power of the president to bestow such grace. Only the law of the land can do so. The president is as beholden to that law as you and I are. It sounds good when his words are presented in thirty second sound bites. This is an election year, you know.

    1. 1.1

      Yes this is a matter of political expedience timed to maximize Obama’s support amongst Latino voters. No it is not enough and the Dream Act (minus the military provision) should be passed by Congress. However the immediate impact of this shift on the lives of undocumented youth can’t be denied or underestimated. Our students cannot work, move around or function normally without the fear of criminalization, deportation and continued economic disenfranchisement. This measure is a testimony to how hard all of the undocumented human rights activists have worked to make their voices and life experiences heard in an administration that has consistently betrayed social justice for people of color.

      1. Another small step, perhaps, toward equality being a more general condition rather than something “exclusive” favoring certain cohorts.

        I’ve always had a bad reaction when something is promoted as being exclusive. I could never figure out why something would be exclusive unless it had something to do with money or rare diseases.

  2. 2

    I should add, Go Janeth! Welcome and good fortune to you. I’m glad you are here. Perhaps someday we might meet and tell each other our stories. I hope that many more will follow you and make this nation stronger by virtue of its diversity. Wisdom is not a single thing; it is the product of many. We are many and diverse and the totality of our experience is greater than any prejudice and is more productive than fear. Welcome.

  3. 3

    What kind of concrete benefits will Janeth get from Obama’s announcement? Will she find it easier to finish college? To work for a living while she studies?

    I sure hope she gets her degree in good time, because she sounds like she has a lot to contribute.

  4. 4

    She will be able to work (i.e., contribute to her college funding, etc.) and not fear being deported. These are major changes for youth who were not eligible for any kind of legal employment before. Since these provisions don’t apply to her entire family this is only a small but still significant part of the battle.

    1. 4.1

      If she’s ineligible for scholarships because of her status, then it’s especially fortunate that she can get a job. Or even with scholarships, a little paycheck still helps.

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