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‘We see gun violence and gun wars all the time’ — Why young immigrants joined the March for Our Lives

For student activist Camila Duarte, community organizing started long before the March for Our Lives.

Duarte, a high school senior at Pompano Beach High School in Pompano Beach, Florida, came to the United States in 2014 from Caracas, Venezuela, seeking asylum from violence in her country. Two years later, she began advocating for legal protections for undocumented youth and immigrants in the U.S.

For her, Saturday’s rally in Washington, D.C., was highly personal — her friends Joaquin Oliver and Martin Duque died in the mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. Now, she said she wants to represent the voices of undocumented youth in the movement against gun violence.

Like many others who lost loved ones that day, Duarte said she is still figuring out how to recover and heal. As part of that process, she has worked to organize her community. On Feb. 22, she and her peers led her high school in a Remembrance Walk to honor the lives lost in the shooting only six days before.

For Duarte, this work is a continuation of her efforts on immigration. When the Trump administration moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that protects about 800,000 undocumented people from deportation, she began working with United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization that aims to transform the fear undocumented youth feel into political action.

President Donald Trump, who has argued that extending the U.S.-Mexico border wall would help national security, said on Twitter in January, “if there is no Wall, there is no DACA.” And last month, four bills on extending DACA protections failed in the Senate.

As a part of her work with United We Dream, Duarte has advocated through petitions and rallies in Washington, D.C., for Congress to create a legislative fix for DACA recipients and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth in the U.S. On March 24, she and peers from United We Dream trekked from Florida to the nation’s capital to demonstrate the outrage that immigrant communities have felt for decades on the prevalence of gun violence.

She spoke with the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs at the March For Our Lives about how this issue affects her community.

How long have you been an activist and why is it important to you?

I’ve been organizing with United We Dream for about six months now, but I’ve been a part of the movement since 2016. It’s important to me because I am in immigrant. I came here four years ago from Venezuela. My whole family are immigrants and in South Florida we have a large population of immigrants and undocumented immigrants. To step out and use my voice as a documented immigrant to speak and help them, and support them in their battle is very important.

Tell me why the Parkland shooting is so personal to you.

Well, I go to school in Broward County, in the same county as the Parkland shooting happened. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is just 15 minutes away from my house and not only that, I know many people at Stoneman Douglas. Unfortunately, I knew two of the people that died. One of them was Joaquin [Oliver]. He was Venezuelan, like me and we bonded over that. I also knew Martin Duque, which is the brother of one of my friends, Miguel Duque, so it’s something that hit home. It hit our whole community.

Why are you marching here today?

I am marching here today because I think the voices of our immigrant community and our community of color are very important. We need to emphasize that it’s been the community of color that have been fighting against gun violence for decades now and it’s our community that’s mainly attacked by this. So, we’re here today to voice our voice or opinions and to let them know that we stand with Parkland students, but we also stand with our community of color.

How do you see gun violence relating to your organizing work for undocumented youth?

Our undocumented community has been hit by gun violence for our entire life. Many of our undocumented youth and many of the immigrant population has been coming to the United States because they’re fleeing gun violence in their own country. So, they come here, trying to get a better life, getting an education, and now they have to fear gun violence again, going to school? In our communities we see gun violence and gun wars all the time. This is something that affects the undocumented community and the community of color very deeply.

When people talk about gun policy they sometimes talk about arming teachers or putting a heavier police presence in schools. How do those policy ideas affect undocumented youth and Latino youth in your area?

Our communities are very, very criminalized and we are already very scared of the police. Adding guns into their schools, where undocumented youth feel the most safe, is extremely dangerous. These undocumented youth don’t need any more fears to go to school or to step outside of their houses. Arming teachers and arming police officers even more will just increase the rates of dropouts in schools.

Fernando Cienfuegos is a junior at Northview High School in Covina, California. This article was written in collaboration with the PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs.