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Immigrant advocate: 'These children are not criminals'

Immigrant activist Yohan Garcia insists that undocumented "children are not criminals" and legislation should be passed to support them.
Immigration advocate Yohan Garcia.
Immigration advocate Yohan Garcia.

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 the 2010 Census, 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, 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. 

"These children are not criminals. Is escaping from crime a criminal offense?"'

Name: Yohan Garcia 

City, State: Bronx, New York

Occupation/Organization: Community outreach director for League of United Latin American Citizens Queens Council 23047 

How did you get involved with immigration advocacy?

I got involved in immigration advocacy back in 2010 when a friend of mine invited me to Congress when the Federal Dream Act was been debated and eventually killed. After seeing the injustice done to DREAMers, I made my goal to become an advocate for the immigrant community. Since then, I have participated in many events and have lead campaigns in support of the New York Dream Act, the federal DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.  

RELATED: Steve King confrontation is just the beginning for DREAMers

Give us a sense of what your day looks like: 

My day never ends! In order to pay for college tuition, I have been working overnight at a bagel shop while I study during the day. I’m also the current outreach director for LULAC Queens Council 23047, thus, school and community work keep me pretty busy. Some of my days start on an early morning and won't finish until the following day. Some others start early afternoon and finish the following morning, but it all depends on the agenda for the day.

What is the biggest misconception about immigration reform/undocumented immigrants?

The biggest misconceptions are that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens. Further, many believe that immigrants do not pay any taxes and that they do not want to assimilate to the United States. Yet research suggests that these opinions are a product of anti-immigrant context which have been sustained and reproduced by the political climate.  

What is your expectation of President Obama and Congress in regard to the border crisis?  

Instead of creating a political debate over the border crisis, the president and Congress should enact humanitarian legislation to help those children in need. These children are not criminals. Is escaping from crime a criminal offense? These children are already in U.S. territory, therefore, both the president and Congress should enact legislation in order to provide these children with a prosperous future.

Were you surprised by the president’s decision to delay executive action until after the midterms?

I was not surprised by President Obama to delay executive action on immigration. The President is making strategic moves since he does not want to risk important Senate seats. Yet, by breaking his promises and delaying action on immigration reform he is upsetting the Latino electorate giant. 

What type of help is most needed on the ground and how can one get involved?

The immigrant community needs the following: Comprehensive immigration reform; more financial support for undocumented students, especially for those not eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivials (DACA); more policies of integration; naturalization campaigns; friendly employment legislation and better access to jobs; legal protection against discrimination; and driver licenses for both documented and undocumented. People can get involved by calling their legislators, participating in rallies, marches, town halls, meeting and press conferences, as well by participating in events held by pro-immigrant organizations.  

What keeps you motivated every day?

Perhaps what keeps me motivated the most is the smiles of immigrants that [say] that joy is greater than fear. Regardless of our struggles, immigrants are hardworking people who have passion and courage to follow their dreams and we never give up! 

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