Three undocumented immigrant college students led a group of people across the Golden Gate Bridge this afternoon to kick off a cross-country march to Washington, D.C. in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the Dream Act.
The three students and one ally student, who is the first American-born citizen in her family, are set to travel some 3,000 miles and visit 285 cities and towns nationwide to educate people about the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented college students.
Backed by various immigrants' rights groups, the marchers call their journey the "Campaign for the American Dream" and expect to reach the capitol in October just before the presidential election, according to John Rodney, a spokesman for the California Immigrant Policy Center.
This afternoon, the four students were joined by staff members from immigrants' rights groups and about 20 local supporters, including students from the University of California at Berkeley and City College San Francisco. Chants of "Education, not deportation!" and "Dreamers united will never be divided!" echoed as the group made its way to the Presidio shortly after 1 p.m.
Lucas Da Silva, 23, one of the undocumented students leading the march, said he felt a mix of excitement and nerves as he took his first steps toward Washington, D.C. today. Da Silva's parents brought him to the United States from Brazil on a tourist visa when he was a year old.
The 23-year-old vividly remembers a high school guidance counselor informing him that he would never be accepted to an American college and should look for work picking fruit.
"After that I remember seeing my graduating class and holding back tears, knowing my friends would go on...to colleges," he recalled. Da Silva later learned that he could attend college in his home state of Florida, he said. He now studies Political Science at Valencia College in Orlando where he got involved with immigrants' rights campaigns.
Although the student said he and his fellow marchers expect to encounter some resistance along the nationwide trek, remembering the stakes involved for him and other undocumented immigrant students keeps him motivated.
"We can only be prepared for so much," he said. "The biggest thing is sending a message of hope and inspiration to those youth who are out there - undocumented youth...who don't know if they're going to be able to go to college or contribute to society and are in limbo."
He said he hopes to create "productive dialogue" with those he encounters over the next several months and to provide information about immigration reform.
"We want to educate those who are opposed and those who might not even know about the DREAM Act and why it's not just a Latino issue or an Asian-American issue -- it's a United States of America issue."
The marchers are set to gather at 5:30 p.m. in UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who himself is an illegal immigrant and a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act.
Rodney said the marchers' next scheduled stop is in the town of Crockett.
--Bay City News