Three years ago, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez and three fellow college students walked from Miami to Washington, DC.
It took four months for the group to complete their 1,500-mile trek -- what they called the "Trail of Dreams" -- on foot. They treaded through snow and slept on couches because they had a message to share with Washington: We need immigration reform. We need an end to the deportation of undocumented students. We need solutions, now.
Sousa-Rodriguez had been a part of the Young People For leadership development program, and the young organizers who have followed in his footsteps share the same extraordinary commitment to fixing our country's broken immigration system. As the director of that program, my respect for the passion and effective organizing of young people on this issue today -- as the highly anticipated bipartisan immigration bill is expected to be introduced -- is no less strong than it was then.
Take Beatriz De La Espriella, a college student in Orlando who has developed a grassroots organization focused on bringing justice to immigrant communities. This month, she planned a children's vigil to highlight the moral dilemma of families being deported, from a child's perspective. Or Diego Sanchez, a student who has conducted "Know Your Rights" trainings at schools and churches for undocumented people in his community.
Or 24-year-old Evelyn Rivera, who is organizing trainings to help others complete DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applications. She is also bravely speaking out in op-eds about what being an undocumented American means in her life:
These examples highlight a greater trend: in large numbers, young people want change. New polling data from the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of Americans age 18-29 support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, compared to percentages in the 60s for those age 50 and older. Youth organizations are building on this momentum. Last week, under the umbrella of the Generational Alliance, 15 youth organizations came together to ask political leaders to pass immigration reform centered on principles like a direct roadmap to citizenship for all immigrants, respect for family unity, and protection of workers' rights. For many of the youth organizers I work with who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, these are not remote, abstract ideas. They are the policies keeping their families separated by oceans, keeping them from pursuing a higher education, and, in myriad ways, keeping them "in the shadows" of the country they love. Across the country, young people are passionate and effective leaders on immigration reform. Through political advocacy, community trainings, and even 1,500-mile marches, young people are strong voices in the movement to create a more inclusive, more efficient, and more just immigration system.
It means that despite my top grades in high school, I can't get financial aid to go to college. It means that no matter how hard I study traffic rules or parallel parking, I don't qualify for a driver's license. It means that though I am proud to have been raised here in America, there is no waiting list I can join to one day become a U.S. citizen. The path is simply not there for me.