By Lorena Kanzki
Brothers Francis and Jorge Tume, six and seven years old, couldn’t wait to get to Miami to reunite with their father, who the year before had fled Peru’s political turmoil.
Fast-forward 13 years.
The Tume brothers shock their parents by showing up wearing black t-shirts emblazoned “UNDOCUMENTED,” declaring the precarious status that the family hid after overstaying their tourist visas.
Like thousands of undocumented immigrants, Francis and Jorge Tume graduated from a public high school, Southwest Miami Senior High. Now both attend college, struggling with under-the-table-paying jobs to cover tuition.
The brothers joined an advocacy group called SWER (Students Working for Equal Rights), a network in South Florida and Tampa whose campus chapters have advocated for DREAMers and other undocumented students since 2007.
Francis said his publicly revealing his status frightened his parents.
“I told them that nothing would happen to me, that I knew I was doing the right thing,” Francis said.
In time, his parents accepted the brothers’ public advocacy and even joined the movement.
After graduating with honors from high school, Francis and Jorge did not have enough money to pay out-of-state tuition at the colleges they applied to because of their undocumented status.
Miami Dade College (MDC) became the only option at the time for the brothers, because it offered cheaper out-of-state tuition than other schools. Francis enrolled at MDC in 2011.
The next year, MDC put Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) into effect, allowing undocumented students in Florida to pay substantially cheaper in-state tuition.
DACA also removes the threat of deportation for eligible undocumented immigrant college students.
At SWER meetings, members share their immigration stories, attend educational workshops, receive help filling out forms for deferred action and launch campaigns to improve conditions for other DREAMers.
Frida Ulloa, 25, an activist and founder of the SWER chapters at FIU and MDC Kendall, contrasted SWER’s members with those who hide their status.
“When you don’t share [your documentation status]... you’re scared,” Ulloa said. “You’re thinking that at any point an immigration officer can take you and take you away from your family.”
She believes that DREAMers who hide their status suffer from frustration, anger and depression, whereas DREAMers who join a network and expose their status are able to shift from these emotions to positive ones.
Francis and Jorge Tume are currently the treasurer and board chairman of SWER, respectively. They believe joining SWER requires a change of mindset.
“Like I say to undocumented families out there, if you keep [your documentation status] as a secret... if something happens to you, if ICE stops you and you’re gonna get deported, nobody’s gonna know about you,” Jorge said.
“Once you come to [the immigration movement] and let us know what your situation is, we can help you out,” he said. “And if anything gets to happen, we’ll be there to get you out of ICE or any detention center.”
Both the Tume brothers and Ulloa see the network as a collective progression toward change for the future of undocumented students.
“Education is what gets you to places,” Jorge said. “Learning empowers you.”
The Tume brothers believe that SWER improved their social skills, grew their vocabularies and boosted their confidence.
“If you want something, you go and get it,” Jorge said. “There’s nothing that can stop you.”
SWER also created social relationships among DREAMers. One group of members, including the Tume brothers and Ulloa, join with allies and friends for soccer games. The games emulate the network itself, as they work together as a team to be able to reach their goals.
Today, the brothers identify themselves as Americans despite what their papers say.
“This country is my home. This is the only country I know,” Jorge said.
“I know more of the American culture than the Peruvian one,” Francis said.
The separation of families among DREAMers is common and is actually one of the main focuses of SWER, whose members have protested at detention facilities, including the Broward Transitional Center.
“This place (BTC) is not a nice place,” Ulloa said bitterly. “This is actually a place that separates families and they have people that have no criminal records in there.”
Although the Tume brothers lack a sense of stability, they maintain a positive outlook.
“Que sigan luchando, la luz está allí,” said Jorge, which in English means, “Continue fighting, there’s still light ahead.”