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Former student continues battle for citizenship

Former student continues battle for citizenship

By Rachel Dragos

On July 11, 2012, Marco Saavedra 11 knocked on the doors of the border control office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and turned himself in as an undocumented immigrant. He spent three weeks in Broward Transitional Center on purpose collecting stories, making connections and gaining publicity.

Saavedra came to the U.S. from Mexico with his parents at the age of three and has spent over 20 years in the country as an undocumented immigrant. When he was 17 and beginning to apply to colleges, he considered leaving the country, returning to Mexico and applying for a student visa, but there was no sure sign that [he] would get it, he said.

As Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions and financial aid, told the Collegian in 2011, citizenship is not a requirement for admission to Kenyon.

[Citizenship status] is like a learning disability you dont know if a student has a learning disability when they apply, Delahunty said. Its not a criteria for admission.

While he was at Kenyon, most of Saavedras peers were unaware of his undocumented immigrant status.

I think a lot of people just assumed that I was a Mexican international [student] that lived in New York City, he said, and didnt think much about it.

He was known, however, for his brave spirit and activism. At Honors Day in 2011, Saavedra received both the Humanitarian Award and Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award.

For the last 18 months, Saavedra has been working as a leader in the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). His purposeful detainment was part of a movement to understand the situation facing many illegals today, an issue currently on the table for the Obama administration, which is trying to pass legislation that would expedite the path to citizenship.

In 2011, the Obama administration declared that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would use prosecutorial discretion when it came to immigration. Immigrants with strong ties to the U.S., who are not considered a domestic threat, would not be the focus of enforcement.

This summer, the Obama administration also instituted a Deferred Action Directive that allows individuals who came to the U.S. as undocumented children to apply for two-year temporary permission stays and obtain work permits.

Saavedra called the efforts of the Obama administration vague and improperly regulated.

Every person I talk to is another shining example of why we need Obamas administration to follow its own rules and immediately release all low-priority detainees, he said on the NIYA website. They continue to be deported to fill quotas.

But Saavedra thinks the issue is deeper than just a question of quotas.

We found cases of medical negligence, police abuse, rape, spouses who had valid claims filed with their partners, victims of trafficking, assault, refugees waiting for years on their asylum request, Saavedra wrote in February on the blog Undocumented Ohio.

At the end of Saavedras three weeks in detention, he participated in a five-day hunger strike. The hunger strike was organized by other detainees, but escalated when Saavedra drew national attention. The underlying purpose of the hunger strike was, as Saavedra said, to show that the detainees were behind it, too.

Saavedra was released from the detention center after three weeks.

Without filing any legal claims, or talking to our deportation officers, we were asked to leave as soon as national media started to pick up on the story, he told Democracy Now, a national media outlet that covered his case early on.

The work of Saavedra and the NIYA is about more than education and legislation; at heart it is a grassroots organization.

Our efforts have always been obviously to be politically involved, primarily coming from our base, being our communities, so we start advocating and organizing our communities. Then we can have the accountability necessary to hold our politicians to their promises, he explained in a video interview for Democracy Now seen by thousands of online viewers. Its always good to escalate. Its always good to push the time table.

Because of Saavedras and other members reports of their time in the Broward Transitional Center, over 40 representatives have demanded a review of the facility due to medical negligence and abuse.

The journey for Saavedra didnt end after he was expelled from detention, however. He began a series of removal proceedings that started in August 2011 and are still in progress. He has been repeatedly urged by the judge to apply for the new Deferred Action Directive, a position that would allow him to earn a two-year temporary stay and the opportunity to apply for workers permits. But Saavedra refused.

Instead, according to a recent article in The Nation, he appeared in a bright turquoise shirt with I am undocumented printed across the front. And, as he told the Collegian, he opted to represent himself.

I have been very blunt and minimal because I dont think I have done anything wrong, he said. I did nothing wrong coming to the country at the age of three. I shouldnt be punished for it. I shouldnt have to justify myself.

Saavedras full hearing is set for this September. Because of his decision not to apply for Deferred Action, he faces the threat of deportation.

And is he at all worried?

I think the worst has already happened to me. Ive already been detained in a facility. The only thing that I get freaked out about sometimes is that its me, and not someone else, he said. But we will just take whatever court order from the judge, even in the worst case scenario, knowing that we can organize against it.

Saavedra is in the process of organizing a visit to campus in late April.

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