|Twenty-five-year-old Viridiana Martinez, shown here being arrested at a North Carolina demonstration in support of the Dream Act, explains why she is unafraid and unapologetic
My name is Viridiana Berenice Martinez. I am 25 years old. I am undocumented. This means I do not hold a social security number or a visa that legally allows my presence in this country.
The government of the United States of America insists on criminalising my existence. It insists on dehumanising my community. And it has refused to stop these abuses, forcing us to come out of the shadows and declare ourselves undocumented, unafraid, unashamed and unapologetic!
Unafraid because for too long, I, as many others like me, lived in fear. Fear of what my friends might think. Fear of a future so uncertain due to the lack of opportunities one has as an undocumented person. And most recently fear that my mother, father and sister may be picked up by police officers, given authority to act as immigration enforcement officials, and placed in an immigration detention centre, owned and operated by private prison companies making profit off millions of detained immigrants.
Unashamed because two years ago, being undocumented was not something I told anyone. I lived in the shadows. Ashamed of what my friends and teachers might say about me, I kept quiet about my immigration status. Without realising it, I was denying my own dignity. So much so, that upon graduating from high school, I fell ill. I was diagnosed with depression after taking an overdose of pills.
The mixture of shame and fear made my environment toxic. But today, that is no longer the case. I have reclaimed my humanity. I am not illegal. No human being is illegal. This realisation led me to take direct action.
Starting last June, I was part of a hunger strike for our DREAMs (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). Along with two other brave and courageous undocumented young women, I refused to eat a single bite to urge our democratic senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) to co-sponsor the Dream Act.
There have been many unsuccessful attempts to pass the Dream Act in the US Senate. It was first introduced in 2001 and recently re-introduced on May 11, 2011. Under the Act, qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a six-year long conditional path to citizenship that would require the completion of a college degree or two years of military service.
We did not eat for 13 of the hottest days of the year. And on December 18, 2010, Senator Hagan was the 41st vote against the Dream Act. She never released an official statement on the vote.
But our fight did not end there.
We envisioned a movement that was not tied to a piece of legislation. Instead, we want a movement of undocumented and unafraid youth, actively challenging the inconsistencies of this system and taking a stand, even if that means risking deportation ourselves.
So, this past April, in Atlanta, Georgia, I joined six other undocumented youth as we sat down around a banner on a street near Georgia State University and refused to stand up.
We were arrested. Immigration and customs enforcement officials refused to detain us. We faced the system, looked it in the face, declared ourselves undocumented and unafraid, and the system completely broke down.
Since then, similar actions have taken place in other parts of the country. Recently, we held an action here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Once again, undocumented youth who had been empowered by previous actions knew it was time to act beyond words.
I was unexpectedly arrested again. Once inside the jail at Mecklenburg County, we were interviewed by immigration and customs enforcement officials.
We were given Alien Numbers and waited to be processed. Once again, the system broke down. Hours later, we were told our immigration charges were dropped and our paperwork was taken away.
Recently, Barack Obama, the US president, announced that prosecutorial discretion would be used so as not to waste resources deporting people who are not high priority. Yet, we keep receiving emails and phone calls from family members in distress because their 16-year-old son is being deported or their husband is in detention and they have not heard from them.
This is why we, as undocumented youth, are also coming out as unapologetic because we have had enough of the lies of this administration.
We refuse to apologise because we are undocumented or because our parents brought us here. They brought us here to give us a better life. They are not criminals. And we will no longer remain in the shadows.
My name is Viridiana. I am undocumented. I am part of a movement that is no longer tied to the Dream Act or simply access to higher education for undocumented immigrant youth.
My movement is about empowerment and the self-determination of those directly affected by this illegal immigration system that enjoys the fruit of our labour but criminalises and dehumanises us, limiting our access to things such as institutions of higher education.
I will no longer remain in the shadows!