By Ariana Renteria
The fresh air surrounds 24-year-old Jonathan Perez, an East Los Angeles College student, as he bikes down and around the streets of San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles. He is undocumented and without any fear of being out of the shadows.
When Perez was in tenth grade, he stood up against the idea that his classmates and he were being criminalized. Following a questioning and being searched at school and after many frustrations with the tardy policy he joined an organization called the Inner City Struggle, where he fought for the rights of his classmates at Garfield High School.
“I didn’t think that it was fair and that naturally translated over the years into immigration work because of the criminalization of immigrants and me being undocumented as well,” Perez said. His dabble with school politics led him to much broader tasks with heavier impacts. Perez and his peers formed what was known as the San Gabriel Valley Dream Team shortly after the Dream Act failed to pass the first time around.
“A couple of other folks and I decided to form (The Dream Team) because we felt that there were areas that didn’t have the same resources. L.A. had all these pro-immigration organizations, but we know that places like Montebello and San Gabriel Valley, these different areas that people were not focusing on they were the ones that need it the most,” Perez said.
He, along with undocumented peers, began a move toward undocumented pride and freedom. Perez and the team spread out throughout San Gabriel Valley in order to increase awareness and to ease the families and the youth that for many years had been suffering from fear of deportation.
“Having events against deportation got people involved. There’s an entire population that isn’t in college and we started getting a lot of people. We didn’t want to set standards. We want to welcome anyone with a goal of higher education, but not limiting it to that,” Perez said.
It has almost been half a year since Perez got detained for not being documented. In November he was sent to a detention facility in Louisiana after a dreamer and himself purposely went to a police station to turn themselves in.
Perez said he had heard that people who were eligible for the Dream Act were getting detained and deported and he wanted to see first hand if it was true. “We got transferred to a detention center in Louisiana and were there for a total of ten days. That’s where we saw people that were Dream Act eligible people where the only crime they had committed was driving without a license, which is just a traffic violation,” Perez said.
He recalls that it was nearly impossible for the men in the detention center to get out. Some had been waiting for months. Others had voluntarily agreed to be sent back to their country of birth. Within the ten days that they were there, they managed to accumulate $700 in phone charges because phone calls were $5 a minute.
Perez’s Dream Team, as well as supporters, were in constant communication with Immigration and Custom Enforcement. Constant phone calls were pouring in, making their situation known and within ten days of being detained they were astonishingly and intentionally let go.
Shortly after Perez’s return to California, he and the San Gabriel Valley Dream Team decided that their cause needed to expand into a larger and much narrower focus.
Various groups collaborated and became what is now known as The Immigrant Youth Collation. Within that organization the San Gabriel Valley has its own chapter. Their new mission is to empower the youth population in order to fight for immigrant rights, education and against criminalization.
A week and a half ago, Perez checked in with ICE, where the judge threw out his case and tore up the document with his pending deportation. “You have to stop being afraid and start being OK with your status,” said Perez. A lot of youths are starting to say that they are proud of being undocumented, proud of what their parents sacrificed for them. “So once you’re out, once you start telling people…when something happens, they are going to be the ones that can take action for you and help you,” Perez said.