Skip to main content

Long-distance walkers head to Arizona to urge immigration action

By Monica Trevino, CNN
  • Four Miami college students walked 1,500 miles to push for executive action on immigration
  • They met with presidential adviser and presented a petition with 40,000 signatures
  • Now they are joining four-day walk to protest Arizona immigration law
  • They plan to go next to California to collect more signatures

(CNN) -- Four college students who just weeks ago completed a four-month, 1,500-mile walk on behalf of immigration reform are headed now to Arizona, to join others in a walk protesting that state's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants.

The students from Miami started their walk to the nation's capital on New Year's Day, seeking to share their personal stories of growing up as undocumented youth in the United States and to raise awareness of the need for executive action from President Barack Obama to stop deportations.

On May 1, Felipe Matos, Gaby Pachecho, Carlos A. Roa and Juan Rodriguez -- or the "Trail of Dream Walkers" as they became known -- ended their trip by joining thousands of protesters urging Obama to take action.

The walkers had requested a meeting with Obama but instead met with Valerie Jarrett, one of his senior advisers. During the meeting the Trail of Dream team submitted 40,000 signatures they had collected along their trek on a petition asking that Obama issue an executive order that would stop detentions and deportations of undocumented students and families.

"I helped register voters during Obama's campaign based on promises he made about stopping deportations, but he has not kept them" Matos said.

Now they are back on the road, embarking on a four-day pilgrimage starting in Scottsdale, Arizona, and ending in Phoenix on Saturday, where they will join a National Day of Action rally to protest the Arizona law, known as SB 1070.

The walk will take them into Maricopa County, whose residents are known for their tough stance on immigration. That's one reason that before they left Miami, "we headed to the beach at 4 a.m. to renew our commitment," Pachecho said.

Matos said that when he first heard that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had signed the Arizona measure into law, "I didn't know how to react."

"At first I was appalled, then I became angry, and the anger morphed into a peculiar feeling quite similar to what motivated me to walk all those months on the trail, despite my chronic back pain or the emotional beating from the painful reality of our country's unjust immigration laws," he said.

The Arizona law requires police officers to check the residency status of those they stop for suspected crimes or violations if there is "reasonable suspicion" to suspect the person is an illegal resident.

Critics insist the law will lead to racial profiling; supporters contend it is needed to crack down on a variety of problems involving illegal immigrants.

"Despite the fact, that we are emotionally and physically tired from the four-month walk," Matos said, "We felt that something needed to be done and we were moved to action.

"I am undocumented and can't begin to imagine what it means to live in Arizona and be scared because you can't hide the color of your skin."

Pachecho said her family understands what she is doing "and sees it as a calling. My father says that when you start something you have to finish it."

After their Arizona trip, the group will travel to Los Angeles and San Francisco in California to gather support and signatures that will be submitted during a follow-up meeting with Valerie Jarrett in mid-June.

"No social change ever happens because of politicians but because people stand up," Matos said. "We are seeing that people are angry and pushing the government to do something."