As a part of Immigration Action Now week, the Asian American Alliance hosted a workshop on civil disobedience with two immigration reform activists, Adam Kuranishi of the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago and Mohammad Abdollahi of DreamActivist.org.
Abdollahi began by sharing his story of being an undocumented immigrant in the United States and how his undocumented status affected everything from his family to his ability to receive a college education. Abdollahi is best known for his civil disobedience actions that were directed at the senators and representatives whose support was needed for the passage of the DREAM Act.
For him, the defining moment was when he attempted to transfer to Eastern Michigan University. “[The college counselor] was like, ‘You’re the kind of student we want in this university,’ and she handed me this piece of paper and it was my acceptance letter. And about five minutes later, the counselor comes back and tells me, ‘When we were reading your application, we made a mistake. We missed the box that you clearly marked that you weren’t a citizen.’ And they took my acceptance letter away from me.”
After this incident, Abdollahi started researching and reaching out to other undocumented immigrants. Together, they founded DreamActivist.org, which is dedicated to the passage of the DREAM Act, or the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors. This law would give conditional permanent residency to undocumented students of good standing who graduate from U.S. high schools, among other immigration policy reforms.
One of the big things the DreamActivist youth movement has been involved in is what Abdollahi refers to as “coming out” — undocumented immigrants sharing their stories and taking ownership of their status.
According to the New York Times, the sit-in at Senator McCain’s, in which protestors went into McCain’s office dressed in graduation caps and gowns, marks the first time students have risked deportation in an attempt to pressure Congress to act.
Kuranishi himself is not an undocumented immigrant, but he became involved in the movement to support one of his best friends, who is undocumented. He succeeded in helping her continue her college career by telling her story and receiving anonymous donations.
For Kuranishi, storytelling is one of the most important aspects of outreach. “Our message has power, and that’s very important,” he said. The two speakers spent the latter part of the workshop going over how best to get that message out there. Kuranishi advised to keep the story under two minutes and to limit it to a specific scene or scenes that will evoke an emotional response from the listener.
DreamActivist advocates direct action, which encourages broad participation and gets a human reaction out of the “target,” or the listener, and stresses the necessity of deliberate strategy and careful planning to ensure that the message gets across. Non-violence was also an important focus for Abdollahi and Kuranishi.
“We don’t condone violence. Everything is non-violent and you have to prepare people for that,” Kuranishi stated.
Abdollahi and Kuranishi plan to visit Georgia next, where they say they will mobilize their base for another strong push for the realization of their goals.
“As undocumented youth, we are tired of waiting for the DREAM Act.”