DREAM on

The future of millions of undocumented students hangs on the lame-duck Congress

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sarah@sfbg.com

Spurred by congressional Democratic leaders' promises to hold a vote on the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act before the end of Congress' lame-duck session this month, immigrant and civil rights advocates are pushing for the passage of bipartisan legislation that would give undocumented youth a shot at citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military for two years.

On Nov. 29 in San Francisco, several undocumented young people joined members of the Bay Area Coalition for Immigration Reform outside Mission High School — where as much as 20 percent of the student population may be undocumented, according to principal Eric Guthertz — to explain why it makes sense to give youth who grew up in the United States a shot at legal status.

"We are not asking you to give us a green card," Anna, a student from Guatemala, said at the event. "All we want is a chance to succeed and give back to this country. We live here, we pay taxes, we're smart, we go to college, but afterward we can't work and give back."

Mario, a 22-year-old gay student who was born in Peru to a Chinese father and Peruvian mother, graduated from UC Berkeley with a civil engineering degree. He explained that because of his lack of documentation, he can't get a job to pay his bills or save up to pursue a master's degree, and fears being deported to a homophobic country.

"It would be a waste of talent because I've learned California-specific engineering rules and the U.S. building code," Mario said. "Sometimes I wake up from a nightmare about being detained. I came out here, but in Peru, I'd probably be back in the closet.

Joining Anna and Mario was Shing Ma "Steve" Li, a nursing student at City College, who was released Nov. 19 after two months in federal detention, shortly before he was to be deported to Peru. San Francisco Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to halt his removal, saying it would be "unjust" to deport Li before a DREAM Act vote takes place.

Li, who speaks Cantonese, English, French, and Spanish, grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and dreams of opening a clinic to serve low-income San Franciscans. But recently, federal immigration authorities flew him 800 miles to a jail in Arizona, all because his parents brought him here when he was 12 and he lacks documentation.

"We were handcuffed and shackled to our seats, and I wondered what would happen if the plane went down," Li recalled.

Li believes the main barriers to the legislation's passage is lack of accurate information. "People need to know the facts, see the people, and hear their stories," Li said. "Then they'll know it is a human rights issue."

Guthertz said that as principal of Mission High, every year he sees undocumented youth who have great grades and lots of advanced placement classes "hit the wall" of their status. "Over and over, I've seen the heartbreaking effect of their situation," Guthertz said. "The DREAM Act is yet another avenue to help these students."

Eric Quezada, executive director of Dolores Street Community Services, noted that congressional leaders did not agree to the DREAM Act vote "out of the goodness of their heart — it's because of the hard work of immigrant advocates."

Quezada said the push to force a DREAM Act vote in Congress this year began when undocumented youth staged a sit-in in Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) office in May. "And the vote of Latinos saved the Senate from a Republican takeover on Nov. 2," he said.

"But we understand this window is closing," Quezada added, referring to the reality that Republicans will take control of the House in January. "So we're not taking one vote for granted. And this is the first step. If we are able to pass the DREAM Act, it will be a downpayment for comprehensive immigration reform."

Comments

If they can't pay their bills, then who will pay for them to go to college?

How is this fair to others who would like to be citizens but follow our immigration laws?

Wouldn't this provide an incentive for other line jumpers in the future and just make the problem worse? The word will be out to every would be fence jumper in the world to just get to America, and then your klids will go to college free and be citizens.

The longest path to citizenship should go to the lawbreakers, not the shortest. Going to college for free (or subsidized by others) for two years as the path is outrageous.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 02, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

Currently, people don't need to be U.S. citizens to serve in the U.S. military. But most immigrants who join up have a green card, and do so to pursue a military career, get financial aid for college, earn money and become U.S. citizens, if they choose, after completing their tour of duty.

So, it's clear that the U.S. is already O.K. with having immigrants fight its wars. And that the DREAM Act would build on this existing pathway to citizenship to the extent that undocumented youth choose this option, over going to college.

But the DREAM Act wouldn't force them into the military as their ONLY option. That's a critical distinction. Americans apparently don't want their children to be drafted to fight the wars their elected representatives authorize. So, how would it be fair for Americans to insist that military service be the only pathway to citizenship for youth who were brought here as children, when they aren’t prepared to force their own kids to fight these wars?

Posted by sarah on Dec. 03, 2010 @ 5:30 pm