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Students Fight to End the Discrimination of Undocumented Americans

Posted Mar 28 2012 - 5:12pm

Edward Menefee is the co-founder of Vamos Together (an organization that fights against discrimination in the South based on citizenship and HIV status). In addition, he is the proud boyfriend and supporter of Bryn Mawr Student Jessica Hyejin Lee, who bravely announced her undocumented status, alongside UPenn student Tania Chairez, in front of the Philadelphia Immigration and Enforcement Field office.  This act of "civil disobedience" was done to protest the violent injustice that undocumented Americans have to endure in private and alone in fear of being deported.  It was also done in support of Miguel Garcia, who is undocumented and has been held in a jail cell for months although his fiancé Jessica Love is expecting their second child.  Finally it was done to show other undocumented Americans that they do not have to be afraid, nor should they remain quiet and be forced to rely on documented Americans to fight for their human rights.  This year Jessica and Edward have worked with Haverford to extend its need blind policy towards undocumented students and are launching the Students for Undocumented Dreams and Decision Equity Now Movement.
 

Who are the co founders of VamosTogether? What inspired you guys to start it?
My brother and I started VamosTogether, a non-profit organization with a few volunteers and a website, last summer to help organize against HB56, Alabama's anti-immigration law.  We had both lived and worked in a small town in rural Guatemala where the people were extremely welcoming and kind.  I was there when Arizona's SB1070 (another "papers please" law) passed, and it instantly made this small rural town look at America differently.  A lot of the kids that we worked with didn't know their fathers because they were working in the states to support them.  These kids were better off than most of the other kids in town.  They were cleaner because they had a concrete floor and healthier because they had bottled drinking water and a refrigerator, while many kids in the town lived in a one-room tin roof shack and worked in the coffee fields.  My brother and I were ashamed that Arizona and our home state of Alabama would be so cruel and unwelcoming.  In a sense, we felt we needed to try to return the favor of hospitality that had been shared with us when we were strangers.  We also felt that we could so clearly see evil triumphing, that we morally couldn't choose to do nothing.  We built a website to help people organize, get emergency information, get updates, and hear the stories of HB-56. 
 
What is VamosTogether? What are the organization's goals and focus?
VamosTogether also organizes the community and helps with casework when we can.  We organized a rally at the state capitol last summer and a boycott last fall, garnering local, national, and international coverage.  We've also worked with NBC and the Human Rights Watch to produce reports on HB56 and share the stories of the families that we were working with and their human rights violations.  We recently helped a coalition of local and national groups that was being led by Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network to pull off a very successful 5 day march from Selma to Montgomery. Thousands of people marched including Delores Huerta, Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Al Sharpton.  The effect of the marches on the Republican controlled legislature, which has said it will tweak but not repeal HB56, is unclear; but they help highlight this important issue and frame the discussion of immigration in the national media.  The Selma to Montgomery March helped people and the national media see immigrant justice as an extension of the Civil Rights movement- helped them see that these laws "are not immigration laws- they're Jim Crow laws" that systematically oppress a group of people and attack their human rights and human dignity (Al Sharpton).
 

What is Hb-56 and why is it important to repeal it?
Alabama's HB-56 is the nation's harshest immigration.  Much of it has been struck down by the courts, but it at one point said that school children had to show proof of citizenship, that it was illegal to aid, harbor, or transport an undocumented American, and that undocumented Americans could not form legally binding contracts or conduct business with the state.  This resulted in an exodus that has been called a "humanitarian crisis."  We worked with two families that had been denied running water.  This is the story of one of them- the mother, Maria, had been undocumented since she was carried across the border in her mothers' arms at two years old and now is my age and has a one year old daughter who is an American citizen.  The father had not been paid for his construction work because his employer said he "didn't have to pay an illegal anything."  They were afraid to drive and to go outside.  They were afraid of the police and of hate crimes.  HB-56 must be repealed because it hurts good people.
 
 

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