Page 10

LocaL Heroes ASPIRE

aspire, created to support undocumented youth, fearlessly pushes for immigration reform. guardian photo by erin conger


ationwide, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants remain in limbo without a pathway to citizenship. While community-led campaigns have yielded legislation that creates safeguards against deportation for young people who arrived with their parents as children, bureaucratic nightmares and forced deportations continue unabated. One particular group of youth immigration activists has not only taken the courageous step of publicly identifying as undocumented, but has pushed back against the fear and stigma often associated with undocumented status by putting out a resounding call for immigration reform. Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education, or ASPIRE (www., has been at the forefront of the youth immigrants’ rights movement in San Francisco over the past year, organizing multiple actions to call for a more just system that incorporates greater fairness for immigrant youth and their families. In November of 2013, when President Barack Obama made an appearance in San Francisco, a member of ASPIRE named Ju Hong inter-


best of the bay



rupted the president’s speech to call upon him to take executive action to limit the number of deportations taking place. “Interestingly, you talked about Angel Island during your speech,” the ASPIRE member whose family came to the United States from South Korea when he was 11, wrote up in an open follow-up letter to Obama explaining why he’d “heckled” him. “What you did not mention, however, is that more people are detained every single day in detention today than were detained yearly at Angel Island.” ASPIRE is housed under Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a part of the Asian Law Caucus, and has been operating for six years, according to Akiko Aspillaga, community organizer. Following a conference for undocumented Asian youth held at UC Berkeley, ASPIRE grew into a more coordinated movement as efforts to pass the California DREAM Act move forward, ultimately securing the ability for undocumented youth to apply for financial aid. “From there, when we saw that our very own members were going to go through deportation, we started a petition and had our first ASPIRE-led rally in front of the ICE building,” Aspillaga explained. the selector

Also last November, ASPIRE helped to organize a protest blockade of a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement bus that was carrying detainees, with many of the protesters risking arrest in doing so due to their undocumented status. These days, ASPIRE is focusing on a campaign to increase immigrant access to health care. Aspillaga explained that youth organizers had heard so many accounts of youth who feared calling 911 for a medical emergency out of concern that it would lead to deportation. ASPIRE is also working on a campaign to reach out to Asian Pacific Islanders and encourage API youth to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to apply for employment authorization. The idea is “not just to increase the application, but also for it to be more talked about in our community,” Aspillaga said. For those who live in San Francisco as undocumented residents born outside the US, “There is still a stigma and there is still shame.” ASPIRE deserves recognition for reversing that perception with its mantra: “Undocumented and unafraid.” 2

arts listings


San Francisco Bay Guardian  

October 15 - 21, 2014 | BEST OF THE BAY

San Francisco Bay Guardian  

October 15 - 21, 2014 | BEST OF THE BAY