August 02, 2012
Photos courtesy of No Papers, No Fear.
Tired of government inaction and what they call “political football” in immigration reform, a busload of undocumented immigrants are risking arrest and deportation to push for change.
About 30 undocumented immigrants and their supporters boarded what they've dubbed the "Undocubus" Wednesday and rolled out of Phoenix, widely regarded as a battleground for immigrant rights. The Undocubus will pull into the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina in September.
Protesters are prepared to be arrested and/or deported as they cross the southern states on their way to deliver a message to President Obama. Spokesperson Tania Unzueta says attorneys volunteered to brief each rider on the risks involved in traveling on the bus. Each person’s assessment included previous criminal history, relationships with U.S. citizens and whether they were eligible for deferred action, among other factors. One of the riders, Gerardo Torres, says if anyone needs an attorney at any point in the trip, they will be represented.
Before they'd even boarded the bus a handful of them were arrested. In Phoenix some of the riders participated in a demonstration outside Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's trial. Before the trial, the group released a statement saying, “…We are no longer afraid. Today, we confront publicly what we risk every day, being arrested by the police, and separated from our families, only because we are undocumented. We’re confronting fear itself. We are undocumented and unafraid. We hope to inspire others in our own community to lose their fear, to come out of the shadows, and to organize.”
Outside the trial, one of the protesters, Leticia Ramirez, said she was tired of the way her community is treated by the government in Arizona. Addressing Arpaio, she said, “I’m here to tell Arpaio that he’s been chasing our community, he’s been chasing our people and I’m here to tell him that I’m making his job easy – that I’m here, I’m not going to stand for what he’s doing to my community and come and get me!”
Ramirez, 27, was arrested along with three others and later released after spending the night in jail. One of the protesters was transferred to ICE and released two days after the protest. They are four of about 30 people riding the Undocubus, though Unzueta says others will jump on and off the bus at different stops as they make their way to see Obama in Charlotte.
The motto of the movement is “No papers, no fear,” a message painted on the side of the bus, printed on t-shirts, scribbled on signs and chanted during protests. The group posts updates on the ride and encourages participation on its website,nopapersnofear.org.
The website features a blog, and members constantly update the group's Facebook page with photos and videos. A video from the trial demonstration shows the protesters being handcuffed and escorted by police while holding their heads high and continuing to chant with the crowd.
Social media has played a key role in spreading the word about the Undocubus. The group launched its Facebook and Twitter accounts July 19, and by August 1st had 3,615 likes on Facebook and 524 followers on Twitter. Though the movement was born out of frustration and the desire for immigrant solidarity in Arizona, it has quickly grown and gained national support.
Gerardo Torres, a carpenter and handyman who has lived in Phoenix for more than 18 years, is part of the first group who departed Arizona Sunday.
“I decided to participate because I was tired of politicians in Arizona speaking for me and chasing the undocumented community in the state,” Torres says. “I have the power to speak for myself; I don’t need any politician or anyone else speaking for me. It’s time for me to express my opinions – I’m a member of the gay community and I want everyone to know that my community is also affected by these laws and the discrimination happening in Arizona.”
Torres also says one of the main goals of the tour is to educate and inform undocumented immigrants across the country of their rights.
“We want to show our community that they have resources to defend their rights; they can educate and defend themselves in case of arrest or harassment by local police. We are talking with members of the community in all the cities we’re stopping in, sharing our knowledge and our experience about what we’ve done to defend our community in Arizona.”
Though the route has not been made public, the Undocubus is set to go through New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee before stopping in North Carolina. The first stop was in Denver on Tuesday and the second stop will be in Austin on Friday, where they will demonstrate outside the Travis County Sheriff’s Office at noon.
In 2010, advocacy groups found that Travis County led the nation in the deportation of noncriminal immigrants because of its use of Secure Communities. Austin-based immigrant rights groups will join riders in demanding the Sheriff and Chief of Police reject the controversial deportation program.
Originally published at http://www.texasobserver.org/thewholestar/item/18618-undocubus-embarks-on-voyage-across-country