UCLA Labor Center

Immigrant Rights Advocate & IJF Alum: Mario Perez

Mario Perez

Mario Perez is an alum of the 2019 Immigrant Justice Fellowship. The Immigrant Justice Fellowship (IJF) is a project of the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center (DRC). IJF is a California rapid response fellowship that aims to: (1) center the voices and experiences of undocumented immigrant youth in the immigrant rights movement, (2) protect and defend undocumented communities from mass detention and deportation, and (3) create a welcoming, healthy, and just society for immigrants. During the fellowship, Mario was placed at the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ) where he protected and advocated for the rights of immigrants.

Mario with ICIJ Staff

Mario strengthened ICIJ’s Emergency Response Network and deportation defense programs with his innovative ideas and amazing leadership skills. He led ICIJ’s yearly rapid response retreat, helped build and restructure the Emergency Response Network, and increased the impact of rapid response work in the Inland Empire. His leadership was instrumental in providing shelter and transitional support to over 570 migrant families abandoned by Border Patrol in San Bernardino on May 2019.

Mario and the Emergency Response Network volunteers at an ERN retreat.

The UCLA Labor Center and Dream Resource Center are very proud of Mario’s dedication to immigrant rights and would like to present to you his reflection piece, entitled Responding with Hope, about a significant moment he experienced during the fellowship.


Responding with Hope

By Mario Perez

One of the most important reasons I became involved in the immigrant rights movement is the desire to support families that are directly impacted by the unjust immigration system that oppresses our migrant community. As a directly impacted individual that was formerly detained, my mission is to be of service to families that have been affected by the detention or deportation of a loved one.

Through the Inland Empire’s Rapid Response Network, we are able to identify and respond to community members that find themselves facing ICE on a regular basis. On one particular instance, we received a call from a community member who informed us that their family member, named Jose, had been detained by ICE outside of his workplace. ICE had been surveying Jose’s workplace for some time because the company was allegedly hiring udocumented folks. It just so happens that my colleague, Jennaya, and I had just distributed Rapid Response Network cards in the community earlier that day and this family got a hold of one of our cards and gave us a call to support Jose.

Jennaya and I responded to the call as quickly as possible—we know that time is of the essence with immigration matters. We made an appointment to meet with Jose’s wife at their home to conduct an intake, identify the situation they were facing, and assess how to support their case. However, we did not know that Jose’s children had not been notified of his arrest. Ultimately, it was Jennaya and I who would break the news to them. We sat down with Jose’s wife and took down all of the information necessary for the intake, all the while Jose’s children were unaware of the situation. Finally, the eldest came to the room to ask what was happening. Jose’s wife looked to us for support in informing the kids. Jennaya broke the news to the children.

I decided this was a good time to share my own experience as a formerly detained individual and offer them some insight and hope. I shared with them my experience being detained at the Adelanto Detention Center and what their father might face. The children burst into tears and so did their mother. It was one of the toughest moments that I have faced during my fellowship. I was reminded of what my family faced and how they may have reacted when I was arrested. It was truly heartbreaking to witness all of this, but—at the same time—I knew that I would be able to offer them some relief by explaining the process to them and offering them hope and guidance.

While Jennaya and I were there, the family received an odd call from Jose stating that he was coming home soon. We did not know what that meant. It is extremely rare for ICE to release folks right after they are processed. We waited a little while longer with the family to ensure that they were calm and also to see if there were any updates on Jose’s possible release. The time came when Jennaya and I had to leave to complete another intake, but we insisted the family call us as soon as they received any news. Sure enough, a few hours later, we received a call from Jose’s wife stating that he had been released by ICE and was home now. Jennaya and I were ecstatic and grateful, yet we could not believe that he had been released! We made an appointment to follow up with him the following day.

As it turns out, ICE officers questioned Jose regarding the company he was working for and he answered truthfully, so they released him. They released him with an ankle monitor and a pending court date, but the important part was that he was able to obtain his freedom. When we visited Jose the following day, he was still pretty shaken up. He broke down and cried as he explained the traumatic arrest and questioning by ICE. We tried to comfort him as much as possible. We went over the next steps in his immigration case and offered to refer him to legal services that would support his case. He was extremely thankful to have our support and congratulated us many times for the work we do. We have kept in touch with Jose and his family since his arrest and I am glad to say he is doing well.

The most important aspect of my work through the fellowship has been educating the Inland Empire community through our Know Your Rights workshops. Immigrant communities are continually criminalized and oppressed, so it is essential that folks know their rights and exercise them. I will admit that sometimes we come across very heavy cases to handle such as Jose’s, but there is also a lot to be grateful for, such as his release. Success stories are hard to come by but when they do, they offer me hope and motivation to continue fighting for immigrant rights.

If you would like to learn more about the rights of immigrants and resources available to them, please visit the following webpage: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/immigrants-rights/.


A Compassionate & Visionary Leader: Diego Sepúlveda

                      Diego Sepúlveda

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Diego Sepúlveda who has been an exceptional, compassionate, and visionary leader for the Dream Resource Center (DRC) and UCLA Labor Center. We also would like to congratulate Diego on his new position within Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign! Unfortunately, Diego will be leaving his current position as the Director of the Dream Resource Center to join Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. Although today is Diego’s last day and we are sad to see him go, we know that he will always be a part of the Dream Resource Center and UCLA Labor Center family. 

We are very grateful to have had the privilege to work alongside Diego⏤who is a relentless advocate for justice⏤for almost five years. Diego has contributed so much to the success of the DRC since he was initially hired, in 2015, to build and strengthen the DRC’s Alumni Network. He developed a comprehensive database of alumni, launched the alumni network council, and in 2016 coordinated a national alumni convening in Los Angeles. In 2017, Diego led Dream Summer which is the DRC’s national fellowship program that has provided close to 700 fellowship opportunities to immigrant youth and allies and has partnered with over 250 social justice organizations across the country. 

Diego with DRC staff members.

That same year, Diego became the Director of the Dream Resource Center after an open application and selection process. As the Director, Diego helped secure over $1.5 million to support the DRC’s execution of existing projects and launch of new programs, such as the Immigrant Justice Fellowship. Thanks to Diego and all DRC team members, the DRC is strategically placed to continue its leadership development, policy, education, and research work as it prepares to celebrate a decade of immigrant youth leadership in 2020. The DRC will continue to be a pioneer for bold, innovative, and visionary immigrant youth leadership development. 

We would like to thank Diego, one last time, for his major contributions to the success of the DRC and congratulate him on his new journey! Finally, we would like to leave you all with the following words from Diego: 

“The UCLA Labor Center and Dream Resource Center have been my home for almost five years. They have provided me with mentorship, leadership development, and a national network of leaders who work every day to create a better future for us all. It has been an honor to work at the intersection of immigrant rights and labor while simultaneously uplifting LGBTQ-identified individuals, women, and people of color. I am a wiser, stronger, and more strategic leader because of the passionate people I have gotten to work with and the work I have engaged with. 

I thank the UCLA Labor Center team and our partners for believing and fighting for a better future. I am especially thankful to the DRC teamGeorge, Kandice, Leticia, Mayra, and Silvia for always going above and beyond for our communities. I know that our world is a better one because of you. I love you all. Keep rocking and I know the DRC will continue its powerful work under your leadership.”

“I’ll be Dreaming Big, Fighting Hard, and Living Proud!” ⏤  Diego Sepúlveda

The application process for the position as the Director of the Dream Resource Center is not open yet, but we will make an announcement when the position is posted.

Meet Dream Summer 2019 Graduate, Armando Delgado Jr.

We are ecstatic to announce that the UCLA Dream Resource Center’s Dream Summer 2019 fellows will be graduating this Sunday, August 18th! The fellows engaged in critical work, throughout the fellowship, to ensure that social justice continues to be a strong force within the United States. Each fellow performed a critical role to advance the work of the host organization they were placed with and to sustain the immigrant rights and labor movement. The graduation will celebrate the leadership, dedication, resilience, and growth exhibited by each one of the Dream Summer 2019 fellows. 

Meet Armando Delgado Jr., one of the Dream Summer 2019 fellowship graduates!

Placed at United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) for Dream Summer 2019.


Armando Delgado Jr. comes from a single-parent household. His mother and three sisters have been a great support system throughout his life, such as by helping him accomplish his educational goals. Armando graduated with a B.S. in Physiology and Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego. Having worked in the education field for three years at the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, he has successfully served as a mentor to students and helped students gain access to post-secondary educational opportunities. 

Although Armando enjoys working in the education field, in the future he hopes to utilize his skills to increase inclusion and accessibility for individuals with disabilities in the technology and healthcare fields. Having a disability himself, Armando understands how challenging it is for people with disabilities to navigate and find support in a socially and politically turbulent world. He also understands the difficulty of seeking aid in a society that implicitly or unconsciously discriminates against and secludes people with disabilities. He hopes to challenge these societal norms through his work. With this goal in mind, Armando will pursue a Ph.D. in public policy or human-centered design and engineering to examine how technology mediates communication and interactions with disabled populations.

Armando presenting during a power analysis activity at the Dream Summer 2019 kick-off.

We asked Armando: What was your experience with the fellowship like?

“My participation in the Dream Summer fellowship has been a pleasant and positive experience. It has provided me with the opportunity to learn how immigrants and allies organize, at a national and local level, to advocate for immigrant rights. The fellowship has also shown me how to raise awareness and increase advocacy for immigrant rights by building a strong community of supporters. 

I also learned how to effectively work at an organization that specializes in increasing community action for a specific social justice issue. The workshops that were presented to us, during the Dream Summer kick-off, gave me a huge eye opener to the wide range of fields in social justice, such as community outreach and field organizing. Through the workshops, I learned that in order to dismantle economic, political, and social barriers we must first understand the problems in our communities and how these problems affect individuals daily.”

Armando discussing some of the topics that will be spoken at UTLA’s Leadership Conference.

We asked Armando: How has the fellowship helped you grow?

“The fellowship has helped me grow into an individual who is more vocal. Through my host organization, United Teachers of Los Angeles, I learned how important it is to use your voice effectively⏤to create impact and change⏤when organizing for a social justice issue. It is important for one to express their opinions and fight for what is necessary.

The fellowship also gave me insight into how grassroots organizations and unions utilize social media platforms to conduct community outreach. I learned that social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be utilized as powerful tools to challenge authority and unite individuals under a common ground. The fellowship also taught me how to summarize large heaps of data and translate that data into infographics for a target audience to easily understand. People must easily understand a problem or issue in order for solutions to be implemented.”

Learn more about Dream Summer here.


Meet Dream Summer 2019 Graduate, Bezawit Tenna

We are ecstatic to announce that the UCLA Dream Resource Center’s Dream Summer 2019 fellows will be graduating this Sunday, August 18th! The fellows engaged in critical work, throughout the fellowship, to ensure that social justice continues to be a strong force within the United States. Each fellow performed a critical role to advance the work of the host organization they were placed with and to sustain the immigrant rights and labor movement. The graduation will celebrate the leadership, dedication, resilience, and growth exhibited by each one of the Dream Summer 2019 fellows. 

Meet Bezawit Tenna, one of the Dream Summer 2019 fellowship graduates!

Placed at the National Education Association for Dream Summer 2019.


Bezawit Tenna lives in Maryland and is currently a fourth year student at Towson University studying Political Science with a minor in Business Administration. Bezawit moved to the U.S from Ethiopia, with her family, on a hot summer day in 2006. At the young age of eight and with no prior knowledge of English, she was ready to embark on a journey that would change her life forever. Navigating through elementary school⏤without knowing how to speak English⏤posed many challenges for her social and academic life. However, given her sociable personality and with the help of her English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers, the language barrier only became a temporary dilemma.

Although school life was not very difficult for her, moving through the system as Black Immigrants was a challenge for her family. She noticed the lack of resources her parents had, from finding employment to help regarding legal work and assimilation. Inspired by the hardships her and her family faced, she made it her goal to alleviate some of the stress immigrant families face. She volunteered at various centers that provide resources to immigrants such as CASA de Maryland and the Ethiopian Community Center.

Upon graduating in Spring 2020, she hopes to work at an organization that helps marginalized groups⏤like immigrants⏤embrace every opportunity, notice their innate value, and see all things as possible. Through personal and educational experience, she understands the significance of current issues facing the U.S. immigration system. Due to this experience, she is interested in gaining first hand knowledge in key policy and international relations issues regarding immigration and human rights.

Bezawit preparing for an NEA CAPE meeting in LA.

We asked Bezawit: What was your experience with the fellowship like?

“For the Dream Summer fellowship, I was placed under the NEA Center for Social Justice (CSJ) and specifically under the Community Advocacy and Partnership Engagement (CAPE) department. Prior to the fellowship, the National Education Association (NEA) was only an organization that came up while talking about the educator Code of Ethics during a discussion in my education elective classes. I was never aware of the depth of the organization and the significant role it plays within the social justice movement.

At NEA CSJ, I was responsible for ensuring that minorities, particularly immigrants, are represented in the public school system as well as given the resources and support to achieve all of their goals. I researched different ways that immigrant students can organize to put on various events, such as Know Your Rights workshops and Citizenship Drives. Overall, through this fellowship, I was able to contribute to the fight for a more diverse classroom (teachers, administrators, and staff) that meets the demographics of our diverse student population. This is an essential part of the American public school system because representation is a crucial aspect of success for young and impressionable students.”

Bezawit meeting with NEA Senior Policy Analyst, Stephanie Luongo, regarding a research project on ethinc studies in public schools in the U.S.

We asked Bezawit: How has the fellowship helped you grow?

“The Dream Summer fellowship and NEA strengthened my skills, as well as helped me develop new skills. Throughout the fellowship, I mainly engaged in researching issues around immigration within the public school system. Through conducting research, I learned how to think complexly and how to present information in an effective and efficient manner. Communicating research data about immigration issues can be difficult because it is a multiplex issue.

The fellowship also helped me develop networking skills because I was encouraged to engage with staff by scheduling interview meetings with them. I was able to schedule a couple of interviews with staff working in human resources, communications, and advocacy. The interviews helped me understand that social justice work can be done both internally and externally. Prior to this fellowship, I would never have thought about asking someone to engage in a sitdown conversation regarding their work. This allowed me to recognize that networking is more than exchanging business cards and email addresses.” 

Learn more about Dream Summer here.


Meet Dream Summer 2019 Graduate, Abigail Gonzalez

We are ecstatic to announce that the UCLA Dream Resource Center’s Dream Summer 2019 fellows will be graduating this Sunday, August 18th! The fellows engaged in critical work, throughout the fellowship, to ensure that social justice continues to be a strong force within the United States. Each fellow performed a critical role to advance the work of the host organization they were placed with and to sustain the immigrant rights and labor movement. The graduation will celebrate the leadership, dedication, resilience, and growth exhibited by each one of the Dream Summer 2019 fellows. 

Meet Abigail Gonzalez, one of the Dream Summer 2019 fellowship graduates!

Placed at Equality California for Dream Summer 2019.


Abigail Gonzalez was born on December 6th,1999 in La Barca, Jalisco, Mexico. When Abigail was just a six-month-old baby, her family immigrated to the United States for a better life and future. After moving to the U.S., Abigail grew up in the small neighborhood known as Boyle Heights located in Los Angeles, California. She attended First Street Elementary School, Hollenbeck Middle School, and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 2018. Throughout high school, Abigail was very active within her school and local community. She was class president for three years, was a four-year varsity softball player, was a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council, and a College Track scholar. 

Abigail is currently attending Pasadena City College (PCC) and will be transferring this fall to Pomona College, where she plans to pursue a degree in public policy. After graduating, Abigail hopes to work at a nonprofit organization that provides all immigrants⏤regardless of their immigration status⏤with educational opportunities, legal assistance, and mental health resources. Abigail’s career goal is tied to her personal life experience. Abigail comes from a mixed-status immigrant family, so she wants to empower her community and create positive social change because she is highly aware of the struggles immigrant families face. In particular, she understands how an individual’s immigration status can highly impact the type of opportunities available to them.   

In February of 2018, Abigail and her family were featured in NPR’s podcast Code Switch to discuss what living in a mixed-status immigrant household is like. Abigail’s mixed-status household includes her younger brother who is a U.S. citizen and her two older sisters who are both recipients of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA provides eligible immigrant youth⏤who were brought to the U.S. as children without proper documentation⏤temporary relief from deportation and a work permit. Unlike her brother and sisters, Abigail is neither a U.S. citizen or eligible for DACA. She is currently undocumented because the program is no longer accepting new applicants, since President Trump rescinded the program. Abigail’s older sister, Miriam Gonzalez, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit suing the Trump administration for its decision to rescind DACA.

Abigail at the Census 2020 press conference, held by Los Angeles County Supervisor representative Hilda Solis, that addressed the potential inclusion of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census.

We asked Abigail: What was your experience with the fellowship like?

“As a Dream Summer fellow, I was assigned to work with Equality California (EQCA), the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. EQCA works on improving the lives of California’s LGBTQ community through grassroots organizing and political advocacy. This summer, I had the pleasure to work with EQCA’s 2020 Census outreach team. I was in charge of the outreach to college campuses in the Los Angeles County. Our goal was to engage LGBTQ and immigrant youth with the U.S. 2020 Census. Outreach was challenging because it is summer and many campuses do not have a lot of students present, but I was able to connect with five campuses that will allow EQCA to host tabling events for census outreach. These tabling events include talking to students about the importance of the 2020 Census and getting them to pledge to fill it out.

I also attended two press conferences, with EQCA, about the 2020 Census. The first press conference brought local leaders and community members together, right after the Supreme Court’s decision on the potential inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. The second press conference was hosted by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer in order to inform his district about the census work he is supporting. These two press conferences were significant because they were the first I had ever attended. They taught me about the work that other community organizations are doing regarding the U.S. Census.”

Abigail with Dream Summer Project Coordinator, Leticia Bustamante, at the 2020 Census press conference in Los Angeles. 

We asked Abigail: How has the fellowship helped you grow?

“If I am being completely honest, I never thought I would be able to have an opportunity like this because I am not eligible for DACA. Therefore, this fellowship has been nothing but a huge learning experience for me. It is the first fellowship that has allowed me to learn skills necessary for a job. This fellowship was a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time being in an office and professional setting. I never thought I would be able to experience this, at such a young age, because opportunities like these are rare to find when you are undocumented⏤and even more so when you do not have DACA. 

Overall, I have grown a lot professionally. Throughout the fellowship, I wrote professional emails, made professional phone calls, and attended staff meetings. These experiences helped develop my professional skills such as time management, organization, problem-solving, communication, and more. These are skills that one cannot develop and improve, if one is not in a professional setting. 

This fellowship was also great for networking. I met a lot of cool people who are doing great work! They have provided me with both professional and life advice. I have grown so much⏤both personally and professionally⏤in just a couple of weeks because of this fellowship.”    

Learn more about Dream Summer here.