By Tim Haydock- The kNOw Youth Media
FRESNO– A routine traffic stop quickly turned to tragedy for the Rodriguez family. “My brother was deported for driving to work without a driver’s license,” recalls Gelasio Rodriguez.
This experience was the catalyst for Rodriguez to help found Fresno Youth in Action (FIYA) in Sept. 2011. Luis Ojeda, another founding member, described FIYA as an “undocumented-youth and immigrant-youth led organization in Fresno” that advocates for immigrant rights and queer rights.
For FIYA, it’s quite simple: they have members that are both undocumented and queer. The group makes sure that “whenever we’re fighting for the rights of any community, that we are fighting for both and all [communities],” said Ojeda.
FIYA’s work is about human rights and keeping families together, according to Rodriguez. The group is unique because of their focus on both immigrant rights and queer rights, and their advocacy reflects this dual commitment.
FIYA’s dual focus is unique to the central valley, but so is its structure, according to Ojeda. The group is entirely led by youth without a parent organization guiding their decisions. This allows Fresno youth to have a voice in larger conversations about immigration and queer rights.
FIYA was an active part of statewide efforts to support the Trust Act (Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s AB 4). The bill was signed into law on October 5, 2013 as part of a cluster of immigration bills that Governor Brown signed. The bill requires that undocumented individuals that are arrested be released immediately unless charged or convicted with a serious offense. It is common practice for local authorities to hold undocumented individuals, without criminal reason, until I.C.E can come and deport them. Under the Trust Act, this is now illegal in California. In other words, Rodriguez’s brother would not have been deported.
Now the job is to make sure “(Fresno County Sheriff) Mims will comply so that our immigrant families aren’t harmed,” said Oday Guerrero. Guerrero helped to found FIYA in order to “help create a space where undocumented youth could get together and empower the community.” She also focuses on providing resources and, “most importantly, pushing for legislation that would help our immigrant community.”
FIYA also interacts as part of a larger community with like-minded organizations. They have teamed with the Queer and Undocumented Youth Project, a national advocacy group, and Get Equal and the Fresno LGBT Community Center, both of which provide local links to the LGBT community.
In concert with the Fresno LGBT Community Center, FIYA participates in healing circles. Ojeda said FIYA pursued the partnership to provide a safe “space that would be solely focused on bringing out undocumented and queer individuals” and their allies.
For FIYA, “immigration reform must start with an end to all deportations,” said Ojeda. This message was on display Feb. 14, 2014, when President Obama visited Fresno. About a dozen people held a banner and signs at the Tulare Street overpass in downtown Fresno, just a couple of blocks from City Hall.
Rodriguez hopes that FIYA’s demonstrations will influence law enforcement and lawmakers and prevent families from the painful separation that his endured when his brother was pulled over. “They’re not criminals. Stop separating them from their families,” said Rodriguez.