'Dream 9' immigration activist Lulu Martinez, 23, returns home | UIC student purposely crossed Mexico border to highlight immigration issues

August 12, 2013 5:40:38 AM PDT
She had no papers, and yet, a Chicago college student purposely crossed into Mexico and then got herself arrested trying to come back into the United States.

After two weeks in custody, she's back home on Sunday night.

Lulu Martinez says she was trying to make a point. The young activist was brought to the U.S. illegally when she was just two years old. And though she may soon obtain her residency thanks to the Dream Act, she embarked on this risky trip to Mexico and back to highlight the situation of many whose immigration status is still in limbo.

"It felt like a part of me was gone when she was away. I didn't know what to do," said Eddie Martinez, Lulu's brother.

Tears of joy were shed at O'Hare Airport Sunday afternoon as 23-year-old Lulu Martinez returned home after being held in an immigration detention center in Arizona. The UIC student was one of nine undocumented youths who purposely attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border last month without a visa, then requested asylum after they were denied. Martinez, who qualifies, and has already applied for legalization under the Dream Act, says this wasn't about her specific case.

"We need something that allows for family reunification. And we can't keep fighting deportation cases on the U.S side. We also have to keep remembering the families that have already been deported," said Lulu Martinez, "Dream 9."

In fact, six of the nine who were detained in Arizona, had already left the U.S. voluntarily or had been deported. Hoping to reunite them with their U.S.-based families, Martinez and two others put themselves at risk by flying to Mexico, knowing full well they had no way to legally return. And while many who are detained at the border can spend months or even years at a detention center, the "Dream 9," as they became known, were released after two weeks, as protests and political pressure mounted to let them go.

"It's a small win. We're really grateful that the people who wanted to come back here able to do so. Back to their families, back to their homes. That's what community is all about," said Lulu Martinez.

The stunt comes as Congress is embarking on its first serious attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in years. While a bill passed the Senate in June, that bill has been called dead on arrival by House members, including Illinois republican and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, who wants to separate border security from the issue of legalization.

Just this past Friday President Obama said that the votes to get the Senate bill passed in the House are there if only republican leaders would bring it up for a vote. He called on congressmen to move on it after they return from summer recess next month.

Despite what appears to be growing support for immigration reform, activists here say they're not holding their breath. They've been disappointed one too many times.


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