This Summer Camp Just Churned Out 80 Activists

Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2015

Growing up in wealthy Marin County, Yaqueline Rodas didn’t know many people like herself: a young immigrant from Guatemala in the country without legal status. She knew even fewer political activists.

So it was with amazement and a little anxiety that she found herself standing one morning in June in a circle with 82 strangers, each of whom had also been brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, and each of whom was now officially an activist-in-training.

It was the first day of Dream Summer, an annual program that brings young immigrants from across the country to Los Angeles for a 10-week crash course designed to produce the next generation of immigrant rights leaders.

As the students sipped coffee and exchanged shy introductions in a meeting room in the basement of a Koreatown church, Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, which organized the program, explained the objective.

“It is to build a powerful social justice movement that will transform this country,” Wong said. He cracked a smile: “No pressure.”

Dream Summer, which concluded its fifth year Thursday with a graduation ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, has already changed the immigrant rights movement. Its alumni include many leading “Dreamer” advocates, including several who led the push for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (DACA, as it is known, granted temporary deportation protection to more than half a million young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.)

The program includes two weeks of workshops in Los Angeles on topics as varied as public speaking, the immigrant detention system and the history of the NAACP. Participants also spend eight weeks in internships at social justice organizations around the country.

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Other Dream Summer alumni would go on to lead efforts against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for controversial policies targeting immigrants in the country illegally, and to take on Obama’s deportation record. One graduate, Lorella Praeli, is now Latino outreach director for Democratic hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

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