Trail of Dream students walk 1,500 miles to bring immigration message to Washington
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Gaby Pacheco and Felipe Matos, a couple of high-achieving college students from Miami, stand dumbfounded at the corner of 14th and N streets NW.
The plastic side window of their road-weary Ford RV has been slid wide open. It was closed when they parked it at midday a few hours before. Missing from inside: five laptops, a GPS unit, cellphone chargers.
"They disconnected us from the world," Matos says, sounding awed at the surgical daylight work of unknown D.C. smash-and-grabbers this past Tuesday.
It's not the Washington welcome they imagined on Jan. 1 when they began their four-month, 1,500-mile odyssey to deliver a message to President Obama and fire up the next phase of the immigration reform movement.
Matos, Pacheco and two fellow students on leave from Miami Dade College have walked the entire way. The Trail of Dreams, they call it. The RV is their support vehicle. The computers were how they documented their journey on Facebook and Twitter, gathered 30,000 signatures to bring to the president and marshaled support and shelter along the way.
Pacheco uses her dying cellphone to call the police. The dispatcher asks her name. She hesitates. She can't help it. She's reflexively furtive, even after years of training herself to embrace, even proclaim, her identity and peculiar status.
The irony of the moment makes her smile. An illegal immigrant calling the police.
"Imagine if we were in Arizona now," Matos says. "We wouldn't be calling because we'd be so scared."
"But this is a 'Secure Community,' " Pacheco reminds him, referring to the federal program being implemented in local jurisdictions to streamline the process of deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.
Mixed with their caution is an odd eagerness for their encounter with law enforcement. An hour passes and no officers come, so the group drives the RV to the police station on V Street NW. The station has a poster on the wall in Spanish, urging participation in the 2010 Census.
"We're students and we're undocumented," Pacheco tells the desk officer.
"I understand totally," he says with polite disinterest, then takes detailed notes on the theft.