Youth immigration activists cross the border to protest deportations

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Alex Aldana (left) joined a border crossing as part of a protest against youth deportations.

Last November, the Guardian profiled Alex Aldana, a queer immigration activist who was born in Mexico but came to Pomona, California with his mother and sister on a visa at the age of 16.

Yesterday [Tue/18], Aldana joined a group of undocumented immigrants in a protest at the U.S. border crossing at Otay Mesa in San Diego.

Chanting together as a group, they marched over the border and presented themselves to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border protection agents, whom they asked for asylum.

Among the immigrants who surrendered to immigration agents were women, children, and teens. Some are separated from their husbands, children, and families in the US and, like my own mother, wish to be reunited.

The youth protesters were brought to the U.S. earlier in childhood, but deported to Mexico after being taken into custody and detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some would have qualified for the Dream Act, but were forced to leave the country before it was signed into law.

The protesters marched toward the turnstiles that separate Mexico and the U.S., chanting “Yes we can,” and “No human is illegal.”

A few feet from the gates, the group paused to listen to a final pep talk from Aldana.

The action was captured and recorded in real time on U-Stream. About 16 minutes into the video, he can be seen addressing the crowd, fist raised. “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” Aldana told the group. Then, in Spanish, he said, “Without papers [documents],” to which his fellow protesters responded, “without fear.”

They made their way to the turnstiles and one by one they walked through, straight into custody of U.S. border protection agents. As they crossed the border, they told a cameraperson where they hoped to go. They named cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson, and states, such as Alabama, Oregon, and North Carolina. But each one said, in English or Spanish, “we’re going home.”

It was part of a series of organized border crossings, organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to highlight the experiences of young people who lived for years in the United States but were deported due to their immigration status.

In Aldana’s case, he traveled to Mexico voluntarily, due to a family emergency.

“After ten years in California, Alex traveled to Mexico three months ago to care for his ill grandmother,” notes an online petition addressed to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, circulated by the Dream Activist network in support of allowing Aldana to return.

The Gay-Straight Alliance network has also voiced support, saying LGBT deportees are in especially precarious situations because they are more likely to be targeted with violence.

“Over these past few months, [Aldana] has been shocked to discover how crime and corruption make life particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community in Mexico,” the Dream Activist petition notes. “In Guadalajara alone, 128 gay and lesbian people have been killed, and none were reported as hate crimes. Now he wants to return to La Quinta because his mother and siblings need him.”

Activist Yordy Cancino Mendez, who also participated in an organized border crossing, become a target of violence in Mexico due to his sexual orientation. “He has been followed from the metro to his house trying to be kidnapped. He fears daily for his life,” according to the petition written in his support.

Here’s a video of him speaking about what life has been like in Mexico, uploaded by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.

As a teenager in the U.S., Aldana and his family faced severe domestic violence at home at the hands of their father, who harassed him for being gay and tried to stop him from going to school. For a time, he lived in shelters to escape that abusive situation.

Now Aldana wishes to return to the U.S., to continue his education and support his sister, who qualifies for the California Dream Act. As an activist, he’s widely admired as a “courageous and visionary leader in both the LGBT and immigrant rights communities,” said Jon Rodney of the California Immigrant Policy Center.

A birds' eye view of the Otay Detention Facility, from Google maps.

Media representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment. Officials at the Otay Detention Facility, where Aldana was reportedly being held as of Tue/18, declined to comment.