ATLANTA — Dulce Guerrero, 18, kept quiet about being an illegal immigrant until this year, when she became upset after a traffic stop that landed her mother in jail for two nights. The arrest came as Georgia lawmakers were crafting what would become one of the nation's toughest immigration crackdowns, and Guerrero feared her mother would be deported.
"I feel like that was my breaking point, when my mom was in jail," said Guerrero, who came to the United States from Mexico when she was 2. "I felt like, well, that's it, it can't get any worse than this. My mother has been to jail."
Guerrero first publicly announced her immigration status at a protest in March, and now she's organizing a rally under the tutelage of more experienced activists who are themselves only a few years older. The high-stakes movement of young illegal immigrants declaring that they're "undocumented and unafraid" got a boost this week when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas revealed he has been living in the country illegally.
Guerrero is the chief organizer of a rally set for Tuesday at the Georgia State Capitol for high school-age illegal immigrants to tell their stories. The recent high school graduate and others hope to draw attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
Already around the country, efforts by young activists have ranged from rallies and letter-writing to sit-ins and civil disobedience, drawing inspiration from civil rights demonstrations decades ago, with the aim of forcing the federal government to reform rules for immigrants in their situation.
Those who come forward make themselves vulnerable, but it's no guarantee they will have to leave the United States right away. Some have been deported despite broad support from their communities asking that they be allowed to stay. Others have won at least temporary reprieves.
Proponents of stricter enforcement of immigration laws often concede that young people in this situation are among the most sympathetic cases but that legalizing them still raises problems.