A few days ago, I woke up thinking that I would experience an average day. Little did I know that I was going to witness one of the saddest episodes of the walk. I received a call from a good friend letting me know that Leslie Coche had been detained aboard the Tri-Rail -a local train system in Florida, from Miami to Palm Beach County, as she was going to class. I was shocked and speechless for a few seconds as I heard the voice through the receiver asking for help. Allow me to introduce who Leslie is:
Leslie is an eighteen year-old girl who had just graduated from high school with honors and could only afford two classes at Miami Dade College due to the high fees required as a “non-resident” student. She was brought to this country when she was only ten years-old and is currently the youngest inmate in Broward Transitional Center (a detention center in South Florida). What was her crime to justify her being picked up without any respect to her rights?
Leslie symbolizes the reason why we need immigration reform now that ensures family unity and equal access to education, but most importantly, she is a very clear example that our political leaders’ words do not match their actions. President Obama and his administration have continuously lied to us by saying that they are only seeking the deportation and detention of “criminals”. Our communities continue to be raided and the current system does not fail in stealing away those we love. While any student in the United States was thinking about his or her test or homework, Leslie was getting detained in the train station on her way to school. After this infamous call I imagined the following scene: Leslie sitting on a bench, waiting for the train (probably reading a book or doing homework) and out of nowhere an officer approached her to ask for her “papers”.
Why this is relevant to me in specifically? I used to take the same train to go to school, the same campus Leslie attended before she was detained a few days ago. I know that route too well to know that I could’ve been the one asked for my papers at one point and taken away.
Students like Leslie and I, who depend on the Tri-Rail to go to downtown Miami to attend school at Miami Dade College, would have to take at least two hours of public transportation. This sacrifice now became intensified by the fear inflicted on us due to the flash raids that Customs and Border Protection agents are doing. Episodes such as her detention are the reason why I walk.
I walk because I know everyday thousands of immigrant youth go to school asking themselves when their name will come up in the Department of Homeland Security’s deportation list. We have become sitting ducks, not knowing who is getting hit next.
The constant terror of deportation is such a prevalent part of our lives that we, undocumented youth, forget the strength we truly have. Last year, we stopped several deportations and this year we can’t fail to do the same. More than ever, we can’t hide or be quiet. When people come to me and ask my status I “come out” once again.
Yesterday a man who was hurting due to the sickness of his wife approached us with great dismay. He said, “The reason why my wife can’t get a liver transplant is because people like you are draining our system.”
We were able to speak and change his heart by breaking the stereotypes we heard so many times in the media through our personal narrative. In the end of the event he told us that we weren’t at all what he expected and basically realized that we weren’t in fact the cause of any of his wife’s ailments. If all of us were to do the same and talk to at least a neighbor about our status, sharing our personal, human stories, so many hearts would change.
The question that remains is: how can we prove that people like Leslie should not be criminalized and taken away? How can we ever ask for change if we are not willing to work towards it? Freedom is not free, it only comes through struggle and hardship, but most importantly through courageous acts.
Speak up! Do not keep quiet! This is your turn to make sure that your story or Leslie’s get to be told through the mouths of people who understand the issue and can properly testify on our behalf. It is up to you to either tell your story through your mouth or let people like Glenn Beck say it for you.
Some ways you can take action NOW to help Leslie Cocche is to:
Demand her immediate release from detention:
Call Janet Napolitano, Director of Department of Homeland Security, and leave comments of support for Leslie and also ask that DHS stop her deportation: 202-282-8495*
*this is an answering machine, once it is full it is out of commission for the day. Fill it up now with calls supporting Leslie.
Call Assistant Secretary to ICE, John Morton and leave a message urging him to take action and defer Leslie’s deportation: 202.732.3000*
*This is a live comment line, i.e. a human being will pick up and take your message. Be very polite “I am calling to leave a message of support for Leslie Cocche, I ask that Director Morton contact Field Director Rebbecca and defer Leslie’s deportation, she is an asset to this country.”
**You may be advised to redirect your call to the Florida field office, whose number is below. It is still important for the D.C. office to register the number of calls received on her behalf.
3) Call the Miami field office (Miami Office of Detention and Removal Operations) at (305) 207-2001 to urge deferral on Leslie’s case. If necessary, you can provide them with her “A” number, A089-231-361
Felipe ha sido calificado como uno de los mejores alumnos de colegios comunitarios en Estados Unidos. Además de sobresalir en sus estudios superiores, Felipe ayuda a sus pares como presidente de la asociación de estudiantes en el Miami Dade College. Hijo de una madre soltera en las favelas de Brasil, Felipe fue enviado a Estados Unidos a los 14 años de edad. Fue aquí donde pudo aspirar por primera vez a ser un maestro. Pero aunque tiene la inteligencia y la motivación necesarias, por culpa de su estado migratorio no ha podido cumplir su sueño. Fue admitido por varias de las mejores universidades del país, como Duke University, pero tiene prohibido recibir ayuda financiera.
Actualmente, cursa estudios de economía en el colegio comunitario, pero no pierde la esperanza de que algún día ser docente y educar a los jóvenes, porque está convencido que la educación es la clave para salir de la pobreza.
Felipe Matos se ha convertido, en pos de su participación en The Trail of Dreams, en uno de los principales proponentes nacionales de la ley Dream Act y de la reforma migratoria.