By Andrea Long Chavez
The two-part video series "Undocumented and Awkward" depicts situations that young adults find uncomfortable enough, such as a blind date or an unexpected encounter with an old friend.
With humor, however, the narrative includes a rather dramatic twist: The often delicate question of immigration status.
The series is the work of Dreamers Adrift, a collaborative media project spearheaded by four college graduates from Southern California -- Jesus, Fernando, Julio and Deisy. Through video, art, music, spoken word, prose and poetry, they dish out revealing snapshots of what it means to be young and undocumented in America.
According to their website, the simplest, most mundane of tasks "can turn into awkward silences at best, or deportation situations at worst."
The four college grads are part of a growing chorus of young people expressing their support for the long-standing DREAM legislation, an un-passed bill that would grant some undocumented students legal status in return for two years of college or military service.
The act has become a focal point of the heated immigration debate. President Obama has expressed support for the DREAM Act and immigration reform, with the administration recently announcing a policy change that would spare many "Dreamers" from deportation as enforcement is focused on undocumented immigrants with criminal records, rather than young people or students.
According to the policy, the administration has also started a review of some 300,000 pending deportations to set aside the "low-priority" cases.
Still, last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported the highest number of deportations in the agency’s history. Nearly 400,000 removals occurred in fiscal year 2011 alone.
According to the White House Blog, DHS will for the first time focus resources on the removal of people convicted of serious crimes instead of "deporting people who are low priorities for deportation," including young people brought to the U.S. as minors, military veterans and their spouses.
Dreamers Adrift aims to put a human face on the national immigration debate with tales of young adults who were brought to the U.S as children and grew up here.
Take Jesus, a 28-year-old college graduate who has seen both of his parents deported. He says, "The purpose of our media is to bring this discussion forward. It gives us the opportunity to share our stories and voices, our opinions." Ultimately, he says, the goal is to "alter people's perceptions of who an undocumented person or student is."
According to Jesus, the decision go public with his status made sense: "I didn't have anything to be ashamed about. As far as putting my life on the Internet -- I did it in hopes of inspiring other undocumented youth to not feel ashamed about their immigration status."
Deisy said that raising awareness about the need for the DREAM Act is a "reward greater than the risk of being public."
Fernando, now a legal permanent resident, said he was inspired by students who staged a sit-in at Sen. John McCain's office last year. He says, "It was the first time I saw undocumented students putting themselves in such danger. Personally, I felt we had to go through with this project. At that time, I was still undocumented so I did feel afraid of 'coming out.' But it was the right time."
What's it like to be undocumented?
"Limbo is a good word," Fernando said. "This project was specifically about showing the life of an undocumented student after graduation. There's this sense of being put on hold indefinitely."
Undocumented students and supporters can submit poetry and other written works to the website for review and publication, here.
In the video "10 Years and Counting..." Julio, Fernando and Jesus walk through Los Angeles' MacArthur Park. They recounted how they spent the last ten years. Originally, a reflection on their upcoming high school reunion, their stories now explain how the failure of the DREAM Act has affected their lives.
"Our lives have been so similar," Fernando said. "Although we were all at different places, we come together ten years later to the same point. The DREAM Act hasn't passed. I think every undocumented person can relate to it."
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