In November 2009, Bernard Pastor, an 18-year-old undocumented student in Ohio, was stopped by police for a minor traffic violation and detained. ICE held Pastor in federal detention with plans to deport him to his native Guatemala, though his parents had left Guatemala with Pastor when he was 3 years old. When Pastor's friends discovered that he was in detention, they created a Facebook page titled "Free Bernard Pastor ."
"That page became a catalyst for information, and the local media started getting involved as that Facebook page blew up," says Troy Jackson , senior pastor at University Christian Church in Cincinnati and a local community organizer. As soon as Jackson heard Pastor's story, he also created a simple website, PrayForBernard.com . The local faith community and Pastor's classmates added to the content on both sites, and eventually Pastor's story was picked up by local and national media.
In December, friends and community members gathered in support at the Morrow County jail, where Pastor was being held, joined by the media, and soon Pastor was released from jail. While he still has a pending deportation order, Pastor's case was "moved to the bottom of the stack," Jackson says. Though the online campaign was small, with only a few hundred supporters, Jackson believes that the Facebook page and website changed the narrative in Pastor's favor. "The reality is that online social networks become a tool for organizers that help them to further the real relationships and organizing they are already doing," Jackson explains. "Bernard's classmates are 17, 18, 19 years old, but they were able to create a site that was very significant, and while the power of social change is always going to demand more than a 'like' button, I look at the Dreamers, and I see folks who are incredibly committed and use social media to grow their base, to stay connected, and to encourage one another."
Jeannie Choi is web editor at Sojourners .