A group of undocumented immigrants is launching a national bus tour from Arizona this week to promote immigrant rights and protest deportations. The riders are planning stops in Southern states that have passed restrictive immigration laws.
The bus tour's slogan is 'No Papers, No Fear.' The riders ultimately plan to arrive in North Carolina by the end of next month, in time for the Democratic National Convention.
They say they are motivated by their frustration with stalled immigration reform, the rising number of deportations under the Obama administration, and state laws like Arizona's SB 1070 that intend to crack down on illegal immigration.
On Monday night, several riders gathered to paint a vintage bus with orange and black monarch butterflies. Ireri Unzueta Carrazco, a 25-year old who identifies herself as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, said the monarchs symbolize migration.
"We are going to be traveling from here in Phoenix, Arizona all the way to North Carolina," Carrazco said. "I think it is connected because it is a type of moving across borders. And butterflies don't need documents."
Carrazco came from Chicago to join a delegation of 15 people that plans to leave Phoenix on Wednesday. Another dozen undocumented immigrants departed Sunday night and have already made their way to Colorado. The two groups plan to meet there this week and journey together across the South in the painted bus.
Organizers say the riders include day laborers, students, artists and mechanics, are varied in age, and come from various parts of the country.
They plan to stop and meet with other immigrants in states such as South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama that passed immigration laws modeled on Arizona's SB 1070.
Among the activists who have already arrived in Denver is Fernando Lopez, a 21-year old cook from Phoenix.
"I think it is time for the community to finally take action," said Lopez by cell phone as he traveled on Monday morning. Lopez was in immigration detention in Arizona last year and still faces deportation. Now he says he wants to inspire other immigrants to organize.
"We are trying to bring to the community more dignity, more justice through the message of 'No Papers, No Fear,' Lopez said.
The riders are taking a nod from the Civil Rights-era freedom rides, said Carlos Garcia, the Executive Director of Puente, one of the organizations behind the tour.
"They are doing it not only to fight to stop deportations," Garcia said. "But also to empower communities across the United States to come out and lose the fear of being undocumented."
Garcia said by putting a human face on the struggle, it can help convince other Americans to rethink immigration.
While coming out of the shadows comes with obvious risks, such as deportation, Garcia said this tactic is what immigrant rights advocates have left to try to reshape the immigration debate.
Young immigrants have pioneered the strategy of publicly "coming out" as undocumented as part of their advocacy for the DREAM Act, a stalled bill in Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for those who were brought to this country illegally as children.
The group of bus riders that is scheduled to depart on Wednesday includes four undocumented activists who were arrested last week in civil disobedience to protest Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration enforcement tactics.