Walking for a dream
Alexandra de Armas
Felipe Matos had high hopes in high school.
He received acceptance letters to prestigious schools such as Duke University.
However, he was unable to attend because his lack of legal status prevented him for receiving financial aid. Matos, who came to the United States from Brazil when he was 14-years-old to gain an American education, fell into illegal immigrant status when his tourist visa expired.
He was, however, accepted into the Honors College at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, where he served as Student Government Association president and was named to the USA Today‘s 2008 All-USA community college academic team.
Today, Matos is studying economics at St. Thomas University. He’s still fighting for legal status and for the rights of illegal immigrants.
Matos is one of four, current or former, MDC students participating in a four-month walk from Miami to Washington D.C. They are protesting what they believe is the Obama administration’s non-action on issues concerning legislation granting legal status to illegal immigrants.
For the walkers— Matos, 23, Gaby Pacheco, 24, Carlos Roa, 22, and Juan Rodriguez, 20— the demonstration, Trail of Dreams, started on the steps of the historic Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami on Jan. 1.
Three of the protesters do not have legal status in the United States and face deportation during the 1,500 mile trek. They plan to walk 16 miles a day, sleeping at churches and immigration centers along the way.
Their goal is to get to Washington D.C. by May.
“We believe in the people and our message is a message of dignity,” Matos said.
“Everybody understands what it feels like to have a dream, everybody understands what it is like to have a family, and everyone deserves to live that.”
Once they arrive in Washington D.C., the walkers hope their message will be clear.
“The purpose of the Trail of Dreams is to push the Obama administration to stop the deportation of families and the deportation of [DREAMers],” Matos said.
A “DREAMer” is an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of 15 or younger, has lived in the U.S. for five years, and obtained a high school diploma.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act proposes that a DREAMer that has devoted two years to a college education, or the military, should have a chance at obtaining citizenship in the U.S.
The DREAM Act was introduced to Congress in 2001, but has been rejected five times.
Even so, Matos, along with hundreds of members of an organization Students Working for Equal Rights are determined to obtain citizenship.
Roa, a student at the Wolfson Campus, described his high school experience as “a nightmare.”
“In high school my friends were getting a driver’s license, [and] cars, they were working and thinking about college. I couldn’t do any of those things,” Roa said. “I was literally trapped.”
Roa’s parents brought him and his older sister from Venezuela to the United States when he was two years old. He is not familiar with Venezuela. He calls the United States his home.
Pacheco and her family have filed an appeal in immigration court. Rodriguez, who became a legal resident in 2008 after 13 years in the country, is not at risk.
While the walkers are on the road Alejo Stark, 19, who is the director of communications for the Trail of Dreams, is keeping in contact with them. An RV, which holds medication, food, and water, is also following the group.
In addition, members of S.W.E.R and a group in Homestead called, Fast for Our Families, are fasting until the Obama administration hears their request.
But not everyone supports the Trail of Dreams.
Immigration reform is a heated debate in congress. Many, like Rep. Cliff Stearns, representative for the sixth district in Florida and a member of the Immigration Reform Caucus, want to see tighter immigration control.
“Our laws preserve our rights, protect our freedom and help secure our nation,” Stearns said.
“Those who enter and stay in the nation illegally undermine the rule of law. Illegal immigration is unfair to those who go through the legal process to enter the nation.”
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