By Saskia de Melker and Mike Fritz
September 6, 2012
Gerardo Torres used to be afraid every day for his life.
"I was very careful when I was driving around not to make any mistakes or bring any attention from the police," he said.
For the past 20 years, he has been living in Arizona after entering the country illegally from Mexico. And like the millions of undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the country, he faces the risk of arrest and deportation.
Instead of waiting for an uncertain fate, Torres joined a group of immigrants who have decided to publicly proclaim their undocumented status. They've called their project "No Papers, No Fear," and they are calling for a change to immigration policies that they say have unfairly targeted and criminalized immigrant communities. For the past six weeks, the forty riders have traveled from Arizona to North Carolina in their so-called "Undocu-bus". Along the way, they stopped to meet with community leaders and other undocumented families -- discussing rights and explaining legal strategies to families facing deportation hearings.
Ultimately, the riders' message has been focused on their final destination: the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. where thousands of delegates, media members, and police have converged for the nomination of President Obama for a second term.
With over 50 million Latinos in America, the group represents a strong base in the Democratic constituency. As in 2008, President Obama has made immigration reform a key part of his platform, and Hispanic voters make up a critical portion of the population in three swing states: Florida, Nevada and Colorado. But members and supporters of the "No Papers, No Fear" project feel that the president hasn't done enough to fulfill his promise to reform the immigration system.
"That was one of the promise that he made to us," Torres said. "and we're hoping this time he'll listen to us and help us."
In marches around downtown Charlotte this past week, the group has repeatedly cited the Obama administration's record for detaining and deporting more immigrants than any other administration in U.S. history and for the implementation of the Secure Communities program, which allows federal immigration records to be shared with local law enforcement agencies to target criminal immigrants.
Several of the Undocu bus riders, including Torres, blocked the street in front of the convention site shouting the words, "undocumented and unafraid," as an act of civil disobedience this past Wednesday. All ten were arrested for blocking traffic but were released by the next morning.
Torres says he will return to Arizona to fight against the state's immigration laws, particularly the controversial SB-1070 law that permits police officers to ask anyone for their immigration papers if police suspect them of being undocumented.
"We have come out of the shadows," said Torres, "and we are no longer willing to stay quiet."