‘Caravan of Courage': Undocumented Immigrants, Allies March to DC on Thanksgiving

The protesters marched on Thanksgiving to remind others that mass deportation may mean that some families won’t be able to celebrate the holidays together next year

Hina Naveed was 10 years old when her Pakistani parents brought her to the United States. They taught her never to talk about her immigration status because she's undocumented. 

In 2013, Naveed received a grant from the New York Immigration Coalition to work for El Centro, an immigrant center in Staten Island. It was then that the 26-year-old became an outspoken advocate for immigrants' rights. After she graduates from nursing school later this year, she intends to pursue a law degree.

But her plans could be jeopardized if Donald Trump gets rid of DACA as part of his immigration reform. President Obama’s 2012 executive action, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protects individuals who came to the U.S. without documentation as minors and who have made a home here. Naveed has been covered by DACA since 2013.

This week, Naveed traveled from Trump Tower in New York City to the White House in Washington, D.C., as part of the "Caravan of Courage," a movement organized by undocumented immigrants and allies to demand action from both Obama and the president-elect.

Brought together by the New York-based advocacy group, Dream Action Coalition, the protesters made stops along their route to meet with others fighting for undocumented immigrants: dreamers in Maryland and New Jersey, and organizers against an ICE detention center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their trip culminated with a press conference in front 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Thanksgiving. 

“If DACA is rescinded on Jan. 20, I have to inform my employer and I’m assuming get terminated because there’s no other way for me to continue working,” Naveed said. “I won’t be able to work as a nurse, because you definitely need legal status for that. My driver’s license expires in May, so I won’t be able to continue driving much longer. Financially, it’s going to be very difficult because if I don’t have any sort of income, the expenses are going to be building up.”

Since Election Day, Trump has not elaborated on how he will handle DACA. In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," he said that he will first focus on deporting 2 to 3 million dangerous criminals, though a 2015 report by the Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are only 690,000 undocumented immigrants with felony charges or serious misdemeanors living in the U.S. After securing the border, Trump said he will craft his policy toward other undocumented immigrants, whom he called "terrific people." 

NBC has reached out to Trump's transition team for comment about DACA, but has not heard back. 

"We are undocumented, unafraid, and we are here to stay,” Cesar Vargas, co-director of Dream Action Coalition, said outside the White House gates Thursday. "This is the country that we call home.”

The protesters chose to march on D.C. during the holiday because they wanted to remind citizens around the country that a mass deportation could mean that next year some families might not be able to celebrate together.

“Look to the person on the left of you, on the right of you,” Naveed said. “Imagine now that they are no longer there because they were yanked out of your house because of some ticket they had years ago.”

Naveed's family moved to the U.S. because her older sister had a medical issue: a knot in her brain threatened her life. Despite surgery, doctors said her condition was deteriorating, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. Naveed’s parents rejected this inevitability and her father sought solutions around the world. Finally, he brought his family to Long Island, and then to Boston, where his daughter was treated.

But his lawyer misfiled the family’s request for a visa renewal, and it was denied, Naveed said. Then, their appeal was rejected. At Boston Children’s Hospital, doctors said that if Naveed’s sister returned to Pakistan, her illness might prove fatal. 

Naveed’s father chose to overstay his visa so his daughter could continue treatment without interruption. Because of his decision, she is still alive 16 years after receiving a terminal diagnosis.

“That was a happy ending, and unfortunately that also resulted in us becoming undocumented and falling out of status,” Naveed said.

Ivy Teng Lei, a 26-year-old immigrant who moved to the U.S. from Macau when she was 7 and who participated in the press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday, is the only undocumented member of her family. Her parents decided to come here in 1998 because of a failing education system and sparse jobs at home. Lei said her relatives feel guilty that she's having to live in fear of being sent back to Macau, a land she barely knows. Though she's trying to reassure them, she said, "I do want them to recognize that I am hurt.

“I am extremely anxious all the time. I’m scared of being deported,” she added. “I don’t know what my future is going to look like, and I’m trying to look for as much support as possible so I’m not experiencing this in a vacuum.”

Like Naveed, Lei is covered by DACA. As part of her education, she studied in a competitive vocational program that only accepted four applicants and until recently worked in global marketing. Like many undocumented immigrants, she pays taxes (undocumented immigrants pay $12 billion in taxes per year, according to Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino) but is not eligible to receive government benefits. 

If DACA is rescinded, Lei said she will “have to forgo all that I thought I could have in terms of my career.”

“The feeling is like you are living in this reality that you just never liked, and you went to sleep and suddenly you have this perfect dream,” she said of DACA. “Everything was worthwhile. Everything you’ve worked for actually came to fruition. And then you woke up, and you’re kind of thinking, ‘Was that a good thing or was that a bad thing to have that dream?’

“I still have these cry attacks where I’m walking on the street and someone will say something completely unrelated, but it’ll be like ‘what are you doing for the holidays?’ And it’s just like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing for the rest of my life,’” she continued. 

She said that it’s painful to live in “a country that just will not accept you, and will reject you like a bad organ transplant.”

While attorneys say there are alternative paths to citizenship for people covered by DACA, like green card marriages, those take time to obtain. Naveed said she doesn't really have a plan B if DACA is rescinded.

According to Naveed, most undocumented immigrants are as afraid of being arrested by ICE and held in detention centers as returning to their country. Immigrant holding cells are notorious for their cold, unsanitary, overcrowded conditions. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security reported that 41,000 undocumented immigrants were being held at detention facilities in the U.S. 

“To send everyone back to Pakistan, Mexico, China, wherever is going to be difficult,” she said. “But I think that what is definitely very real is mass incarceration, and I think that that is just as scary, if not worse.

“People are afraid to leave their houses, and they’re afraid to be open about their status, or to organize, or to rally, or to exercise their basic rights,” she continued.

One of the "Caravan of Courage's" requests is that Obama considers closing detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania and pardon those who are currently imprisoned for lack of documentation. 

Naveed is marching on Washington to implore Trump “to alleviate those immediate fears that communities are facing” by saying he will not erect a deportation task force and by detailing his immigration reform plan. She also wants “to challenge those basic perceptions that people have” about undocumented immigrants by demonstrating that dreamers come from around the world, and from all different backgrounds. There is no cookie cutter undocumented immigrant.

Lei echoed Naveed’s intentions, saying that she hoped to “encourage more Asian-Americans to stand out and talk about their stories” because a lot of people think of undocumented immigration as “just a Latino issue.”

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