Gay and Undocumented - On the Frontlines of Arizona

Gay and Undocumented - On the Frontlines of Arizona

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 TUCSON, Ariz. -- On May 17, five students got themselves arrested in an act of civil disobedience inside Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office. The students, four of them undocumented, were pushing for the passage of the DREAM Act that would allow hundreds of thousands of students without papers to access higher education. But Mohammad Abdollahi, one of the arrested students was putting himself at even greater risk. Adollahi, an Iranian immigrant, is not only undocumented, he is also gay. Deportation could be a death sentence, because in Iran, the punishment for homosexuality is the death penalty.

“The only difference between my case and the others, is that Iran is a much harsher climate than possibly Mexico in terms of sexual orientation,” said Abdollahi. “But the risk was pretty big for all of us.”


As it turns out, three of the other students who participated in the protest, are also gay. “All of them are very comfortable saying that they’re queer, that’s part of the story,” said Lizbeth Mateo, 25, one of the arrested students, who is now back in Los Angeles, Calif. “Being queer (for them) adds to the struggle, it’s like coming out twice and having to face different obstacles,” she said.

Many members of the LGBT community are part of the fight for undocumented immigrants, said Tania Unzueta. She was involved in the act of civil disobedience, but was not detained, because the group decided she would leave before the arrests to be a spokesperson for their cause in case they were held in detention.

“For me, it is a very personal thing. The fact that I’m queer and undocumented has always been a part of me, of how I feel in society, how I relate to my government, and my parents,” said Unzueta, 26, who lives in Los Angeles, Calif. “Thinking of my identity as queer has helped me to think about my identity as undocumented, for example, when thinking about coming out.” She has participated in both immigration rallies and LGBT marches like the Chicago Dyke March.

Being Iranian and gay, Abdollahi exemplifies the diversity of the youth impacted by a broken immigration system. “This is something that really goes beyond just one race, beyond just one issue, it affects everybody,” said Abdollahi, 24. “By doing these actions and coming out as undocumented immigrants, we are telling other people to feel more comfortable in coming out.”
Abdollahi himself came to the country legally from Iran when he was 3 with his parents. But his family lost their legal immigration status later on in connection with issues with an attorney. He is co-founder of DreamActivists.org.

Abdollahi, Lizbeth Mateo, Yahaira Carrillo, and Raúl Alcaraz -- all very active leaders in the DREAM Act movement -- were arrested and taken to the Pima County Jail. There, immigration authorities placed a hold on three of them who are undocumented –with the exception of Alcaraz, who is a legal permanent resident, and gave them a court date for June 18 to initiate deportation proceedings.