There’s been a lot of hype, hope, rumors and misinformation about the Dream 9 since they crossed the southern border two weeks ago. Here are some facts you might not know about the nine activists being held at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, which is privately owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America.
1. The Dream 9 crossed into the U.S. legally.
During a visit with the Dream 9’s Marco Saavedra on Sunday, he said he was surprised to learn that people assume that what they did is illegal. It’s not. Entering into the U.S. from another country and asking for humanitarian parole or asylum at a port of entry is perfectly sound in the eyes of the law. Saavedra said the current immigration policy automatically attaches the illusion that everything—and everyone—that exists on or near the Mexico-U.S. border is somehow illegal.
2. Three of the Dream 9 are indigenous.
Ceferino Santiago and Lizbeth Mateo are both Zapotec; Marco Saavedra is Mixtec. All three have roots in the Mexican state of Oaxaca where indigenous people are socially and politically marginalized and face a disproportionate amount of violence. In their asylum applications, the three explained that because they are indigenous, these conditions are inherent proof of credible fear.
3. One of the Dream 9 is a 37-year-old mother.
We tend to think of Dreamers as those youth who are eligible for relief under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Dream 9, however, are concerned with the return of anyone who’s been separated from their families, like Claudia Amaro, who said she arrived in the U.S. as a teen after her father and uncle were killed in Mexico. She then returned to Mexico in 2006 after her husband was deported there and she brought her U.S.-born son along with her.
4. Two of the Dream 9 are serving 15 days in solitary.
When I visited Eloy on Saturday, a detainee who is not part of the Dream 9 told me that word spread like fire last week after Maria Peniche and Lulu Martinez jumped up during dinner and urged their fellow detainees to call a free legal hotline to fight deportation. They yelled out, “Undocumented! Unafraid!” in Spanish—which inspired others to pound on the dinner tables and begin clapping and chanting as well. Peniche and Martinez were punished for their action. A Department of Homeland Security panel found that they’d violated a discplinary code and ordered them to spend 15 days in solitary confinement.
5. One of the Dream 9 was placed on suicide watch.
After Peniche was sentenced to solitary, she hit a really low point. She was placed on suicide watch. She said guards gathered all of her belongings into a bag so that she could not hurt herself with anything in it yet left the bag in her cell. In this phone call from detention she explained what she was going through in solidary:
You feel like the world has forgotten about you. … I was gonna hurt myself. Too much anxiety. Too much fear. Too much anger at this entire mess. I just wanted to slam myself against a wall or put boiling water on my hands so I could feel some kind of pain or something different.
Peniche continues her stay in solitary confinement where she is left in isolation for 23 hours a day. She suffers from heart arrhythmia and experienced an attack during her second day in detention.
6. One of the Dream 9 lost 10 percent of her weight in five days.
When I saw Lizbeth Mateo Saturday, she looked very thin. She was placed in solitary confinement with five others who started a hunger strike (all six have now been released into the general population). She lasted five days, until finally drinking some orange juice in order to prepare for her credible fear interview. Mateo told me that she’s already prone to anemia, so the weight loss creates a serious health risk. During her five-day hunger strike, she lost 11 pounds—which is ten percent of her entire body weight.
7. One of the Dream 9 identifies with the apostle John.
During the Ustream live feed from the Dream 9 crossing into the U.S., Marco Saavedra was heard paraphrasing 1 John 4:18, saying, “There is no fear where there is perfect love.” Saavedra later explained to me that he chose that quote because John was the only one of the 12 Apostles to ever be exiled. He added that he himself felt like he was in exile during his recent visit to Mexico—and remains in exile while he’s in detention.
8. The Dream 9 have the support of their mothers.
You already know about Natalia Saavedra—who’s busy these days lobbying politicians for her son’s release. But other mothers are at it, too. When I visited the Dream 9’s Luis Leon on Saturday, he explained that his mom quit her factory job in order to fight for his return to his family in Marion, N.C. All of the Dream 9 have fathers, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles and cousins fighting for them but many say their mothers have been especially inspiring.
9. The Dream 9 have a ton of backup.
Aside from vigils outside of the Eloy Detention Center, Dream 9 supporters are writing letters to the detainees, participating in daylong hunger strikes and holding other events aimed at bringing them home. And the momentum is growing. More than 30 lawmakers have signed on to a letter penned by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Ca.) asking President Obama to use his discretion to allow the Dream 9 to return home. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the House floor asking for the same. Ad-hoc groups, 19 major unions and Human Rights Watch are all demanding the Dream 9 be released. The National Immigrant Youth Alliance, which organized the border crossing and maintains constant contact with the Dream 9, is asking supporters to sign their petition.