Albert Donjuan doesn’t speak very loudly and is the first to admit he lacks confidence.
But with his future on the line, Donjuan was among the undocumented LGBT people who bravely stepped before microphones at a press conference this week to urge the U.S. Congress to pass the DREAM Act of 2017 (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors).
“As loudly and as confidently as I can say it, I want legislators out there to hear our stories,” Donjuan said during a press conference held at Mi Centro in Boyle Heights. “A dream against the DREAM Act is a vote for deportation.”
The DREAM Act of 2017 would prevent youth and LGBT undocumented young people_known as DREAMers_ from being deported to countries where their lives might be in danger due to homophobia and transphobia.
These children of undocumented immigrants are currently protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a Barack Obama-era program that President Donald Trump is ending March 5. DACA recipients will then begin losing their status at a rate of approximately 1,400 per day.
“In 2012 when DACA was created, they came out of the shadows not only as undocumented immigrants, but as LGBT people, to live their lives here in the only home they’ve known,” said Maria Melo, the Center’s policy and operations manager. “Being here (at the press conference) is definitely huge for them. They’re fighting for their lives.”
Of that risk Donjaun said: “I think it’s time for me to step out of the shadows, to get out of my comfort zone, and to let people know that I exist. We are here.”
Melo pointed out that there are anti-LGBT laws on the books in 80 countries and a possible death sentence in eight of those countries. The potential threat of being sent back to a country they barely ever knew is constantly on the minds of the DACA participants, many who are in the middle of the college studies.
Jose Guevara can’t imagine calling any place but the U.S. home. He was brought to country from El Salvador by his parents when he was 10. When he was 14 he came out as gay and a year later he began battling leukemia.
“I’m not here to make you feel pity and I’m not here to inspire you – I’m here to tell you to wake up,” Guevara said. “All that I am is being threatened.”
The Cal State Los Angeles student compared waking up the morning after Trump was elected U.S. to “the feeling after chemotherapy where the next day really isn’t a promised one.”
Amritpal Kaur, currently studying psychology and queer studies at Cal State Northridge, emigrated to the U.S. from India when she was just four. She said this holiday season has so far been fraught with anxiety.
“I just can’t sleep at night,” she said. “Some of my neighbors, instead of talking about their holiday plans, they’re talking about a Plan B: ‘What is the plan if we don’t get to stay here tomorrow?’ This is the reality for a lot of us living in this country right now.”
Kaur added: “Please help us.”
There are more than 75,000 young people who identify as LGBT and nearly half of them are actively participating in DACA, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA. Approximately 28% of the LGBT DREAMers live in California.
More than 80 LGBT centers and nearly two dozen LGBT statewide quality organizations nationwide have signed a letter telling members of Congress that it is a “moral imperative” that they swiftly pass the DREAM Act of 2017.
The letter states in part: “Brought to our country as children, many of these individuals do not even remember the country they came from and consider America to be their only home.”
The press conference was a joint effort of the Center, Equality California (EQCA), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), CenterLink, Latino Equality Alliance (LEA), UCLA Dream Resource Center, and LGBT Center OC.
There is bipartisan support to pass DREAM Act of 2017 by the end of the year. This week, 35 members of the House GOP caucus publicly voiced support for a speedy solution.
Supporters are urged to immediately contact their Republican and Democratic members of Congress to urge them to support a ‘clean’ DREAM Act devoid of such bargaining chips as funding for a border wall and additional detention centers.