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On Wednesday, April 13, a fundraiser for the Georgia Seven was held at Ikenberry Commons on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Seven undocumented students were arrested in an act of civil disobedience on April 5 in Atlanta. Among them was UIUC student Andrea Rosales who spoke at an event titled “Whose Side Are You On?” organized by the student group La Colectiva.
Andrea told the story of the weeks of planning leading up to the action, her experience of being arrested, and her 24 hours in jail. Andrea was brought to the United States when she was five years old. She is to graduate in May with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Latino Studies. At the fundraiser, Andrea talked about her decision to carry out a nonviolent demonstration. “How many other of my fellow students would I have to see disappear?” she said. “How many would I have to see drop out of college because they couldn’t afford it?”
The Georgia Seven had previously planned their action on Facebook with fake names and photos. They met in person for the first time in Atlanta. They were among a group of students who delivered petitions to the President of Georgia State University asking him not to comply with the state’s ban on undocumented students. They then marched across the GSU campus and ended at a busy intersection. With hundreds of supporters surrounding them, the Georgia Seven sat down in the street in an act of nonviolent protest. They were subsequently placed in plastic handcuffs by police, put in the back of a squad car, and taken to jail. Andrea recalled the bumpy ride in the back of the police car as four of them sat with their hands behind their backs.
While they were being booked, the Georgia Seven openly told jail guards they were undocumented. When a guard referred to them as being here “illegally,” one of the students corrected them and said they were only “undocumented.” The term “illegal” was a dehumanizing term, Andrea explained, which took away their personhood.
Fulton County, where they were arrested, currently participates in the “Secure Communities” program in which ICE agents are notified and given 48 hours to detain someone before being released from jail. [Champaign County, where UIUC is located, is also a “Secure Community.”] Andrea said the ICE agent who questioned them was himself from the Dominican Republic. After the seven refused to fill out documents, the ICE agent agreed he was not going to “touch” them. Andrea suspected this was because he was afraid of negative publicity. While they were in jail, images of their arrest were being broadcast on the nightly news.
Andrea remembered one scene when she and her fellow students were sitting in a jail cell with other inmates. One young man was in an orange jumpsuit, with tattoos, and had been questioned about his gang affiliations. After they talked to one another, it was discovered that one of the students and the young man had both been born in the same town in Mexico and had both grown up in the same city in North Carolina. At this point, Andrea said she was reminded of the reason they had done the demonstration. While undocumented students are being banned from campuses in Georgia, thousands of others are quietly being deported throughout the United States.
The Georgia Seven bailed out of jail and were free the next day to return to school. Andrea said that most of the donations that had come in were from UIUC. She encouraged the audience of more than 100 people to support the other students.
Donations to the Georgia Seven can be made here.
Afterwards, members of the Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance (UGA) held a meeting to plan solidarity efforts with SEIU which is set to hold a strike on campus beginning April 18.
For photos of the event see the blog of photographer Silvia Gonzalez.