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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Students march on D.C. to back immigrant rights

Laura Wides-Munoz, Associated Press
Saturday, January 2, 2010

While their fellow college students recovered from the night's revelry, four South Floridians celebrated the new year with a more active - and activist - approach.

The group on Friday began a 1,500-mile journey they are calling the Trail of Dreams, from Miami's historic Freedom Tower to Washington. The goal is to raise support for legislation that would include a path to citizenship for eligible illegal immigrants.

The four, all immigrants themselves, plan to walk the entire distance, no matter the weather. They expect students and other supporters to join them along the way and plan to arrive in the capital May 1, which has become a day of immigrant rights rallies in recent years.

All are top students at local colleges and campus leaders. Some are now here legally, some are not. All say they are willing to take the risks that come with bringing attention to the plight of students who, like themselves, were brought to the United States as children and are now here illegally.

Juan Rodriguez, president of the student government at Miami Dade College's InterAmerican Campus, and the others say they were inspired by the migrant farmworkers who walked the length of California in the 1970s, and by the civil rights marches of the 1960s.

He and the others want comprehensive immigration reform, meaning a path to citizenship for qualified immigrants here illegally as well as improvements in border security that respect immigrant communities. They are also calling on President Obama to halt the routine detention and deportation of illegal immigrants who have children and spouses who are U.S. citizens. And they want him to halt the deportation of youths brought to the United States as children, who are now here illegally but want to attend college or enter the military in exchange for the chance of a green card through a so-called "Dream Act."

Rodriguez's family brought him to Florida on a tourist visa from Colombia when Rodriguez was 6 because his father feared the surge in kidnappings in their homeland. Rodriguez's stepmother eventually helped him become a U.S. resident last year. Now he is studying to become an engineer.

The others in the group have similar stories. Carlos Roa, 22, Felipe Matos, 23, and Gabby Pacheco, 24, all were brought to the United States as young children, excelled in school and have advocated on behalf of immigrant teens. Pacheco is from Ecuador, Roa is from Venezuela, and Matos is from Brazil.

An RV will follow them to ensure they have shelter at night and a bathroom in remote locations, Rodriguez said. The nonprofit Florida Immigrant Coalition is helping with logistics.

This article appeared on page A - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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