The DREAMer Panel: Undocumented Truths

by Katie DeCramer, Politics ’12

On a whim our first morning volunteering at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Seattle, I plunked my watch around my wrist and tightened the strap. “Maybe,” I thought, “it’ll come in handy.” Little did I know that choosing to sport my wristwatch for the duration of the conference would give me the task of “Official Timekeeper” and front row seating for a dynamic session on October 26th in which undocumented student activists—three Latino students and one Korean student—spoke of their experiences working to pass the DREAM Act and related initiatives. As they arrived and sat down just a few feet from me, I realized: you can’t tell someone’s immigration status by looking at them. I had spoken with one of the students the day before and didn’t think twice about his immigration status—I assumed he was documented. Until I met these students and heard their stories, I walked around presuming that everyone I met was documented (unless, of course, I heard from them otherwise). Furthermore, I had never really thought about the fact that your own immigration status might be something you learn rather than just know.

Imagine sitting down with your mother one day after school and learning from her that the tourist visa with which you came to the US expired years ago. Imagine dodging friends’ questions about not being able to drive because you cannot apply for a driver’s license. Imagine interviewing for a job only to have the employer rip up your application when he looks at the blank line indicating a SSN and then say, “You just wasted my time. We don’t hire illegals,” as he walks away and the pieces of paper fall to the floor.

I was riveted. When an undocumented student born in El Salvador who grew up in Maryland ended his speech with the words: “I am undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic,” shivers went down my spine. On the ride back from Seattle, the students’ accounts replayed in my head as I struggled to remember anything resembling a statistic I had learned at the conference (good thing I had written many of them down). As we returned to Walla Walla, I thought about the interviews I was in the process of conducting with Latino students and parents about their experiences with culture and race in the Walla Walla Public Schools. My interview questions aim to search out narratives. Going forward, I will remember how narratives, small pieces of the truth of human experience, tend to stick in your head when facts fall away.

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