MINNEAPOLIS -- Fifteen individuals and groups will be awarded $5,000 cash prizes at progressive conference Netroots Nation on Saturday evening, praising them for putting aside fear to push for changes in immigration enforcement and law.
The idea of the Freedom From Fear Awards was to honor men and women who had shown courage in standing up to immigration laws, said Michele Lord of the Public Interest Project, which came up with the prize. The group dug through 380 nominations. Some came from the other side of the aisle, such as a nomination for Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has pushed for tougher immigration enforcement. (He was not chosen.) One Republican, Utah businesswoman Antonella Packard, will get an award for her work with Bosnian Muslim immigrant communities and advocacy for the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented youths who graduate from college in the United States or serve in the U.S. military a pathway to citizenship.
Several of the awards will be given to young men and women, many of them undocumented, who have engaged in activism for immigration reform at the state and national level. They said "freedom from fear" meant standing up for what they believed in -- even if it meant risking deportation, violence or arrest -- by "coming out" as undocumented or speaking against injustices.
"As undocumented youth we are in a privileged position because we have a good image and a good story," said Tania Unzueta, who was arrested in July 2010 during a sit-in of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) office in Washington, D.C. "I think what we've tried to do is use our image as students to also say, 'Look, we're still in deportation proceedings and in threat of deportation and getting arrested and criminalized.' For me it's always been about highlighting this contradiction."
Unzueta, Rigo Padilla and Reyna Wences, undergrad and graduate students at the University of Illinois-Chicago, will get one award for their work as founders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.
The three students, along with others, engaged in protests in support of the DREAM Act in 2010, traveling to Arizona and the District of Columbia. In some ways, their statuses as undocumented students came in handy, allowing them to earn more sympathy than other undocumented people, they said.
Wences stressed that it is important for undocumented people to speak out so others do not feel alone. The student said that she struggled with depression and attempted suicide before "coming out" as undocumented, and therefore feels it is important to share her story. -link-
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