Juan Escalante: American


Juan Escalante wakes up to bad news every day. A DREAMer of a generation that didn’t have much when in their late teens, every morning he faces the reality that our government is failing him. He is a constant target of online harassment and threatening tweets. But for eleven years Juan has not stopped fighting. He has become a resource for undocumented youth, a familiar face on the news media, an expert immigration commentator, and a HuffPost columnist. Since moving to the United States in 2000, he has become American in every way except on paper.

There are over three million DREAMers living in the United States. They are adults who immigrated to this country as children and either lost their status over the years or never had it at all. A portion of them gained employment authorization and temporary legal status thanks to President Barack Obama’s DACA, but now their futures are once again uncertain as the Trump administration is cracking down on immigration, and focuses on making America white again.

Juan’s activism began when he received a call from a college admissions officer in 2007 asking him for a green card proving Florida residency, which would make him eligible for in-state tuition. When he asked his mother for a copy, he was greeted with panic and helplessness.

I’m sure that a lot of immigrants had to experience this at one point or another, and a lot of people face obstacles in their life, but for me, I had to see my mother shatter in front of me. I had to collect her and assemble her back, because she was just shocked.”


After some poking around, he realized that no green card meant no in-state tuition. Which meant out of state tuition, or international student tuition, which could mean a $40,000 per year difference.

“You know when your parents perpetually tell you that something’s going to be okay and it’s the white lie that they have to tell you, but it’s really not going to be okay. I felt myself in that position at 17 years old. That was the turning point and I became political.”

Today, Juan is a spokesperson for America’s Voice and the writer of a bi-weekly column on HuffPost. Last year he moved from Florida to Washington, D.C. in order to further the fight he’s helping lead for himself, his community, and our country. Though the progress that’s been made is overshadowed by the toxic political climate, he emphasizes the changes that have taken place in the last eleven years such as DACA, in-state tuition for undocumented students, and many more.

“When I think about what’s shaped me as an activist is my tenacity to go out there and not take no for an answer, despite the fact that I knew fairly well that the answer was no.”

Juan gained his public profile today because he has helped lead and shape the fight of immigration reform in America. His bravery and openness about his status encouraged countless undocumented Americans to speak out. He built an army that was unafraid to stand in front of Congress and scream “we trusted you,” kids who have stared in the face of evil and called out white supremacists who have forgotten the values of their own country, and kids whose parents have been villainized by the media.

Responding to news about the caravan and the America’s reaction to it, Juan posted:

Give me your tired,
Your poor,
Your huddled masses,
Yearning to breathe free,
And we’ll tear gas them.


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Gosia Labno is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She holds a B.S. in Media and Cinema Studies and an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies. She is working on a collection of short stories chronicling the lives of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Follow.

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