Immigration Reform is About Empowerment

May 22, 2013

By Catherine Eusebio

Women in immigration detention

Kathy is an undocumented Thai-Chinese immigrant from Arizona. She wrote to me about her lifetime of isolation. The label “illegal” made her feel unwelcome despite living in the U.S. since childhood. And while her state is infamous for its antagonistic treatment of immigrants, Kathy did not know a single undocumented person in her city or school. She kept her status a secret from her friends until she found other undocumented youth in California.

But in California, the state with the largest undocumented Asian population, this narrative is even more common among young people. The threat of deportation frightens community members from joining organizations and efforts to pass immigration reform. As the fastest growing immigrant population in the US, Asian Americans have a stake in this legislative debate. However, many families urge their children to remain invisible for their own safety.

ICE Officers

Despite these barriers, Kathy shared with me her desire to stand up for immigrant rights. She proclaimed that in spite these great feelings of fear, “It would make a world of difference to be able to join this movement.”

As these courageous leaders step up, we need to support them to lead the national conversation on immigrant rights and policy.

Within the immigrant youth movement, we are committed to building new leaders. These are the stories that fuel our work. Through Dream Summer, a larger national internship program led by and for undocumented youth, we pair interns with community organizations and unions for ten weeks. Not only do interns develop as professionals, but they also become connected to an expansive network of other leaders making impact within their local communities.
For organizations, the transformation is sometimes greater. Organizations that host often develop a deeper insight on the experience of undocumented immigrants. More importantly, they find of connecting their own work with this larger movement.

Dream Summer raises the visibility and uplift the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrant youth like Kathy. We also recruit LGBTQ and women leaders to more intentionally create a gender and sexuality lens with immigrant rights efforts. When the most impacted lead, we know our movement only becomes stronger.


Undocumented immigrant awaits deportation

California is a leading the way for immigrant rights for the nation. As thought leaders, we have a responsibility to engage communities in other states to share our view point. Together, young leaders and community organizations across the nation can build a sustainable leadership pipeline. Our intertwined efforts will create the infrastructure for a socially just world.

For more information about Dream Summer, please visit

Catherine Eusebio, AAPIP Social Justice Fellow and manager of the API Dream Summer internship program, is an undocumented Filipino American from the San Francisco Bay Area. As a student, she served on the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Task Force representing all undocumented Asian students on campus.  She was honored as a “Champion of Change” at the White House on May 6th for her work to create a more equal, safe and prosperous future for AAPI communities.

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