Former Arizona State Senate majority and minority leader and author Alfredo Guiterrez.
Courtesy of Alfredo Guiterrez

The activists at the frontlines of immigration reform

Updated

Sept. 15 marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month — or, as it is known in Spanish, Mes de la Herencia Hispana — a time when the United States pays tribute to the history, culture and contributions of past and present Hispanic Americans. 

According to 2010 Census data, 50.5 million Americans identify as Hispanic — and that number is growing. Immigration has long been a part of America’s national history, and the role that immigrants have played — and still play — in building this country is one of the reasons “the American dream” is still shared around the world today. America is a place where new beginnings and new lives are possible.

Over the next month, msnbc.com will be profiling outstanding Hispanic activists who are making a difference in the fight for immigration reform and who are providing critical support services to undocumented communities. 

We have heard from an activist who is just beginning to organize as a 14-year-old and a veteran who has dedicated the majority of his life to advocating for immigrant rights in different professional capacities. Take a look at some of the stories:

Veronica Isabel Dahlberg (far right), executive director of HOLA Ohio, with Elly Velez Montes (blue shirt) and her family, hours after Montes was released from a four month detention and nearly deported.
Courtesy Veronica Isabel Dahlberg

Veronica Isabel Dahlberg serves as a lifeline for families on the verge of deportation in northern Ohio. As the executive director of HOLA Ohio, she works with lawyers and organizers to keep families together in the U.S.

“I often feel like a circus performer spinning plates,” she said.

“Each deportation case is high stakes and requires quick action. I contact elected officials, lawyers and other leaders daily. I drive to immigration in Cleveland, HOLA meetings, sometimes I drive 1,000 miles weekly.”

READ: Immigration activist describes roots of her commitment to advocacy

While Dahlberg began her work more than 20 years ago as a student studying the working conditions of Mexican immigrant farm laborers, teenager Carmen Lima’s has become a voice for DREAMERs and undocumented youth out of her and her families lack of citizenship. In November 2013, she confronted House Speaker John Boehner and asked that he push for immigration reform. 

“He said he would try to move immigration reform forward, yet a few hours later he said that he wasn’t going to do anything about it,” Lima said.

“It was a bit hard to take in, but when I thought about it I thought, ‘Well I’m just going to have to try harder. I can’t just stop now. People are counting on us.’”

READ: Undocumented teen shows no fear — even when confronting lawmakers

Teenage immigration activist Carmen Lima, who confronted House Speaker John Boehner about passing immigration reform, appears on msnbc.
Teenage immigration activist Carmen Lima, who confronted House Speaker John Boehner about passing immigration reform, appeared on msnbc.
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After Alfredo Guiterrez’s father was deported in the 1930s during Operation Repatriation and he experienced Operation Wetback in the 1950s, his family’s fear of deportation became extreme. It was at at that point that he felt “advocating justice for immigrants has seemed like my calling,” Guiterrez said. 

From working as a labor organizer for farm workers early in his career to serving as Arizona’s Senate majority leader, at age 69, Guiterrez is “considered an old man of the movement.” Nevertheless he stays involved as a writer and organizer with Puente and the National Day Laborer Organizer Network

Michelle Gonzalez’s legal work adds another layer of complexity to the immigration narrative. She represents LGBT undocumented immigrants at Immigration Equality in New York City. 

“The majority of my time is spent advising people who are scared and seeking help because they were violently harmed in their home country because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gonzalez explained. 

These are just some of the leaders profiled in this months series. Together, they reveal a diverse range of what activism on the front lines of immigration reform looks like. 

READ: Leading Arizona activist on immigration reform’s biggest hurdle and A double-edged sword for LGBT immigrants

To read more profiles, visit speakout.msnbc.com

Immigration Reform and John Boehner

The activists at the frontlines of immigration reform

Updated