Still I Dream - Dream Youth Leader Writes About His Journey from Detention to Leadership

By Steve Li, former 2012 Dream Summer Intern and Catherine Eusebio, AAPIP Social Justice Fellow
Posted on AAPIP (Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy)
February 25, 2013

It was one sunny day on September 15, 2010, and what I expected to be a typical school day turned out to be a day that changed my life.  I was 20 years old when five officials dressed in black from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided my family’s San Francisco apartment.
 
They came to my house to deport me back to Peru because I'm undocumented.  Once I stepped outside, I was handcuffed and shackled, about to spend the next 66 days incarcerated in a county jail and in a detention center in Arizona. With the help of my family, friends and the community, who organized around the Dream Act, they moved Senator Dianne Feinstein to stop my deportation.
 
This harrowing experience led me to be the change that I wanted to see in the world. I became a Dream Summer intern in 2012. I joined 162 immigrant youth leaders from over 30 states. Each of us were placed in organizations to become more powerful advocates and to develop the skills to enter the professional world. This is a meaningful and much-needed opportunity; immigration status prevents students like me from accessing these internships.

It was during the opening retreat of our internship that President Obama made the timely and historic announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA allows qualifying immigrants to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work authorization.

While I welcome this news, DACA is a bittersweet victory. I celebrated with my peers who led the grassroots campaigns that pressured the Obama administration to take this step. However, DACA does not go far enough. Some of my friends are left out, for example, for arriving to the U.S. at age 17, just a few months over the age requirement of 16. America needs a long-term, humane policy solution for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
 
Knowing that our community has more work to do, I began my ten week internship at AAPIP. I had many great learning experiences, but one highlight was working with the Rosenberg Foundation. Beyond investing the resources to provide young people with internships, the staff also supported and encouraged me to convene the interns in Northern California – a key step towards building community. Interns came from as far north as Sacramento and as far south as Salinas. And one of my proudest achievements is partnering with community, philanthropy and government to host a gathering at San Francisco City Hall where I told my story.
 
Undergoing the trauma of detention and hearing the stories of the people that I met inside the detention center opened my eyes to the injustice and broken immigration system that we have in the United States. I was one of the few lucky ones saved from deportation. Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, including my parents, are forcibly removed from this country they call home without so much as a stir.
 
We all have a role in creating the world we dream about – one free from forced family separation. Immigrant youth champion just one area of our contemporary civil rights movement. Organizations like AAPIP are crucial to further developing young leaders and making connections to other areas of advocacy. And with the support of philanthropy, we are better able to amplify our message.

This year, I am thrilled that AAPIP is partnering with the UCLA Labor Center to launch an innovative component, API Dream Summer that will raise the visibility and uplift the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrant youth. Our goal is to double the number of AAPI immigrant youth who participate in this larger national program.
 
Together, young leaders, community organizations, and philanthropy can build a sustainable leadership pipeline. Our intertwined efforts will create the infrastructure for a socially just world.
 
To find out how you can host an intern or directly fund 2013 Dream Summer please visit www.dreamresourcecenter.org