Woman Walks From Florida To D.C. For Immigrant Rights

Gaby Pacheco is in the U.S. illegally, but not of her own choice. Pacheco was seven-years-old when her family brought her from Ecuador to the U.S. She is now 25, and still without status. Pacheco recently walked from Florida to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of the Dream Act legislation, which would allow undocumented students who have graduated high school a path to citizenship after a college degree or two years in the military. Pacheco speaks with Tell Me More guest host Tony Cox about the rights she would like to see extended to others like her.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

And we're talking, initially, today about the lives of young people brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents and raised in the shadows to avoid deportation.

For many of them, life in the United States is all they know. With debate over immigration at a fever pitch in some parts of the country, we're going to focus on the young, illegal immigrants - some of them active and very much out in the open.

One Harvard student this week was granted a temporary reprieve from deportation after he was detained in Texas while trying to board a domestic flight to Boston, with only his student ID and Mexican consulate cards.

On the program, we'll also turn to the much-debated referendum in a small Nebraska city that bars landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, and businesses from hiring them.

First, the story of four young, illegal immigrants raised to avoid attention who are now insisting on the passage of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act could allow undocumented students who have graduated high school a path to citizenship after a college degree or two years in the military. They recently held a public meeting with a staunchly anti-illegal immigrant sheriff in Arizona, and walked pointedly from Florida to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of their situation.

Mr. JUAN RODRIGUEZ: My name Juan Rodriguez. I'm 20 years old, and I came to the United States when I was 6 years old.

Mr. FELIPE MATOS: My name is Felipe Matos, and I'm 23, and I was born in Rio, Brazil.

COX: Another one of those four, Gaby Pacheco, is with us now. Gaby, nice to have you on.

Ms. GABY PACHECO: Thank you for having me, Tony.

COX: You have been in the United States since you were 7 years old -illegally. Tell us the story of how you got here.

Ms. PACHECO: I came to the United States from Guayaquil, Ecuador, with my family in 1993. And my family wanted to find a better opportunity for their children. They wanted safety. And so they set out to the United States, a country that they used to come and do business a lot with. And so we landed in Miami, Florida, where I started going to elementary school at the third grade and I started excelling, and also was part of the orchestra, part of the cross country, basketball, track and field team. I was what you call the all-American girl.

COX: Sounds like an all-American experience. Tell us about this trek that you took from Florida to Washington, D.C., the journey, what your goal was. I know that part of it was to attempt to meet with President Obama. You were unable to do that, but you did get to meet with several White House officials. How did it go those meetings?

Ms. PACHECO: Well, we set out on foot from Miami on January 1st, where we left our families and friends. And a lot of people were scared because, you know, we were open about our status, and we were doing this all on foot. And so we had the opportunity to talk to average Americans, where we told them our stories. And a lot of people - I would say, 95 percent of the people - we had opportunities to talk to, didn't know what was happening, were misinformed. And so we were able to change a lot of people's hearts and minds.

We actually have, right now, over 55,000 supporters, and most of them are non-Latino. And as our journey continued, you know, we had confrontations with the Ku Klux Klan. We had opportunities to meet with different sheriffs along the way and talk about, you know, the destruction that 287(g) and Secure Communities brings to our communities.

COX: What happened with the Klan?

Ms. PACHECO: Yeah. So the Klan had a gathering in Junta, Georgia. And we were there with the NAACP to counter-demonstrate. You know, they were saying that they wanted to eradicate all the Latinos and immigrants by all means. The same hateful language that we hear from the Ku Klux Klan, you know, we heard it a lot from what we saw in Arizona, with the new debate of the law SB 1070.

COX: Now, when you went to the White House to meet with officials of the Obama administration, two questions: One, again, what the result of that meeting was. And secondly, were you at all concerned about your legal status? Because technically, you could be picked up and put on track for deportation at any time.

Ms. PACHECO: I think that the results from the meeting with the White House - was a bit disappointing, to tell you the truth. You know, we had the opportunity to meet with Valerie Jarrett. And she actually took the time to hear our stories and to talk to us, and to tell us that she was really proud of the work that we were doing - and thanked us for it. But at the same time, you know, we didn't get any results.

And the reason why we walked was because we were gathering stories of thousands of immigrants, and people along the way, that are asking President Obama to follow through with his promises.

And, you know, as far as the concerns for our safety, they were there. But as far as, you know, us getting picked up and detained, you know, we are already detained. We are already incarcerated in our lives because we are not able to go to college. We're not able to drive. We're not able to fulfill our lives.

You know, being a person that has grown up in this country that feels like a citizen, and has no citizenship, is something really frustrating.

COX: Now, you met with Valerie Jarrett, who was a senior adviser to the president. You wanted to meet with the president and were unable to. Really briefly, where do you go from here?

Ms. PACHECO: I think that now, you know, after the walk is done, I think we have all the responsibility to make aware of what is happening in the country. I think that the administration is completely out of touch. The Department of Homeland Security talks and says that they are trying to deport criminal aliens. And when the reality is that from that 100 percent of people, only 10 percent have some sort of criminalities.

And when we look at those people and we see the research, it could be as much as a mother that was driving without a license. In the state of Florida, that's a felony. And so, you know, people have to take their children to work. People have to go get groceries. And if they don't have opportunities and abilities to get drivers licenses, they're going to drive.

And so I believe that their job, they're not completing it, they're not doing it right. And if we were to be doing 10 percent of our work in any job, we would get fired.

COX: Gaby Pacheco walked over 1,000 miles, from southern Florida to the White House. Her goal was to advocate for those, like herself, who were brought to the United States as children of undocumented immigrants. She joined us from the NPR bureau in New York. Gaby, thank you very much.

Ms. PACHECO: Thank you for having me.

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