I never thought I’d begin a post with a Trojan cheer, but you’ll see why later.
Two young immigration reform activists, both UCLA alumnae, were killed in a car crash in Trenton, Maine early this morning.
Cinthya Felix graduated from UCLA in 2007 with a degree in English and Spanish literature and the first undocumented student to attend Columbia’s School of Public Health. She was obligated to defer her admission to 2008 because undocumented students aren’t allowed to receive financial aid, and she established a website to raise money. She wanted to become a physician and serve her community.
Tam graduated from UCLA in 2006 and was pursuing a Ph.D at Brown. Tam’s family, refugees from Vietnam who had moved from Germany to the US, had been refused political asylum and was living in the US without documents; immigration agents raided her house and arrested her family after she spoke out for immigration reform. Tam was also a talented filmmaker, and her documentary about the plight of undocumented students, “Lost and Found“, has gone viral throughout the immigrant-rights community and among immigrant allies.
Tam’s documentary about the DREAM Act and undocumented college students,was my introduction to immigration reform – I saw it at a Bruin Democrats meeting my sophomore year, then again in class my junior year. While I never met either Cinthya or Tam, I’m deeply saddened by their passing, and I pray for their families and friends.
There’s not much I can say about this – two brilliant, talented, and principled young women died in a horrible accident. The best way to honor their memory is to fight for the cause they were working for when they died.
Let’s pass immigration reform. Let’s bring undocumented students the same opportunities other Americans have. Let’s make sure that other, equally brilliant young people don’t have to fight uphill to get their degrees or skulk in the underground economy, ashamed and silent and uncounted by no fault of their own. Let’s make sure people don’t have to die waiting – or fighting for – education.
President Obama has claimed “there may not be an appetite” for immigration reform. He says that “it’s a matter of political will” and that immigration “is a difficult issue.”
No appetite? These two young women were starving for reform – and they died hungry. That leaves Boyle Heights without a doctor – Cinthya dreamed of going back and working as a community health physician. That leaves some university somewhere without a brilliant scholar with a deep knowledge and deep appreciation of this country – Tam’s father did time in a Vietnamese “re-education” camp and Tam herself was a doctoral student in American Studies at Brown.
No political will? Let’s talk will – the will of young people dropping out for a quarter or two to work sketchy jobs (because they’re not allowed to work normally) to save money to go to school. Their will makes me sick at my own indolence as a student, and it makes me sicker when I think of people who don’t have the will to straighten out their backbones and back these young people up.
Getting an education as an undocumented student is difficult. Graduating with honors and going to Ivy League grad schools with the terror of the INS and despair of finding a decent job because of having no papers is difficult. Standing up for your rights while federal agents round up your family is difficult.
And feel free to find me an issue more difficult than not having a country – than being forced into illegality, silence, and shame by a country that prides itself on taking in the world’s refugees and creating a city on a hill to arouse the world’s envy.
How many more people have to wait, or die waiting, for the chance to learn in and serve a country they were brought to too young to object, but which they have thrown their lots in with?
So, as this post begins – fight on. Fight on for education. Fight on for an open America. Fight on for your friends, classmates, and lovers who keep their status on the downlow, hustling double overtime to get a degree they can’t afford to enter an economy that refuses to take them.
But most of all, fight on in the memory of these two brave young women, both credits to every community and school that they’ve passed through, held back by borders on a map and lines on a page.
“No appetite”? Stay hungry, dear friends and gentle hearts - hunger for those who never got the chance to be filled with “liberty and justice for all.”