Jason Kane TCPalm.com
December 23, 2009
Manuel Guerra Casas may soon be deported.
The 26-year-old from Indiantown has been forced to withdraw from Kaplan University and was denied scholarships at a seminary. And if pending court proceedings don't go his way -- he'll also be heading back to Mexico.
So Guerra Casas plans to start walking to Washington D.C.
On Jan. 1, four young people will lace up their sneakers and head north from Miami toward the nation's capital along U.S. 1. The group hopes that each step will bring more attention to the fact that thousands of undocumented individuals, many who have lived in the U.S. since they were small children, are barred each year from continuing their education in the U.S.
Guerra Casas, also one of the organizers, plans to walk with them from Hobe Sound to Fort Pierce.
"The purpose of all this is to let the American people, Congress and the president know that we are no longer afraid of being undocumented -- that we are going to show who we are," he said. "We are coming out of the shadows."
They're calling it the Trail of Dreams, and the youth -- associated with Students Working for Equal Rights and supported by the Florida Immigrant Coalition and Reform Immigration for America -- plan to complete their trek to the National Mall by May 1.
At a rate of about 17 miles per day, they will pass through Hobe Sound Jan. 8, Stuart Jan. 9 and Fort Pierce Jan. 10. On Jan. 9, the walkers will gather at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Stuart to tell their stories to area residents. Guerra Casas said 200 people are expected.
The travelers would like to be joined in Washington by 100,000 supporters who will rally for the passage of the Development, Relief and Education Act for Alien Minors, or the DREAM Act.
The bill was introduced in both chambers of Congress in March with the intention of providing undocumented immigrant students who fit certain criteria a chance to earn conditional permanent residency.
Each year, tens of thousands of high school graduates can't pursue higher education because of their immigration status. The proposed legislation would put them on a conditional path to citizenship in exchange for the completion of a college degree or two years of military service.
But in an interview with USA Today, Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates less immigration, said the DREAM Act rewards "people who have broken the law with immigration benefits."
Additionally, the walkers would like to see the passage of legislation that would prevent undocumented individuals from being separated from their families.
Only four individuals have signed up for the entire 1,052-mile trip, but hundreds -- like Guerra Casas -- will join them for small stretches.
Guerra Casas came to the U.S. at age 17. He said he swam across the river from Mexico into the U.S. at Laredo, Texas. He said he was escaping gangs in Mexico and wanted to attend school in the U.S.
The deportation process began in 2003 when he tried to get a driver's license and work permit. He had his first deportation hearing in 2006, he said.
But not all of the activists are illegal immigrants.
Flavia Franco came to the U.S. as a child with a visa and now attends Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth. Some of her friends have been denied access to higher education or separated from their families, and Franco said that needs to stop.
"I think it's the only thing that is left to do. We have tried rallies, we have tried protests, we have tried calling the congressmen, and we are not heard," she said. "We're having a lunch for the walkers when they pass through, and when they leave, they'll be taking our dreams with them."
THE TRAIL OF DREAMS
For more information, visit the Students Working for Equal Rights' Web site -- www.swer.org/actions.htm -- or send the organizers an e-mail at email@example.com.