by Eric Mar and Eric Quezada
OPINION Imagine for a moment that you are 14 years old. Your parents, stuck in perpetual poverty and unemployment (or perhaps worse), move your family to a foreign country to begin a new life.
You work hard, struggle to fit in, study constantly, and fill your spare time with school activities. Maybe you even work a little on the side to chip in. You are a parent's dream, and a model of young citizenship.
Except that you're not a citizen. And one day, even as you've mastered English and flourished in school and in the community, you are stopped like a criminal by federal authorities.
This is what happened to Steve Li, an engaging and industrious 20-year-old student at City College of San Francisco and a graduate from George Washington High School. He always thought he was an average San Franciscan until the morning of Sept. 15, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents suddenly raided his home and arrested him and his parents. Steve was incarcerated in Arizona for more than 60 days, far from his friends and family. Through a full-court legal and legislative press, and a groundswell of immigrant community organizing leading to a private emergency bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Li has temporarily staved off deportation. But Li and thousands of other hard-working young immigrant Americans could soon be summarily tossed out of the country if Congress doesn't act now to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The DREAM Act is a common-sense, bipartisan measure that is urgently needed to avoid countless other Steve Li cases. Despite congressional wavering on comprehensive immigration reform (which a consistent majority of Americans support), everyone should be able to agree on the basic right of undocumented immigrant minors, who are moved here by their parents, to gain steps toward obtaining citizenship.
In brief, the DREAM Act would enable some immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military.
According to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), about 65,000 U.S.-raised high school students could qualify for the DREAM Act's benefits each year. As NICL puts it, "These include honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, and aspiring teachers, doctors, and U.S. soldiers. They are young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and desire only to call this country their home ... they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of detection by immigration authorities."
It makes no moral, economic, or social good sense to continue tearing apart families and communities and disrupting young people's lives — all at great expense to the American public and taxpayers.
The time to act is now: please call your congressional representatives today and urge them to vote yes on the DREAM Act — without any amendments that might undermine its effectiveness. Although Nancy Pelosi and most Bay Area Democrats support the bill, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) and the Republicans are either on the fence or opposed. There's no time to waste in giving hard-working young immigrant students this most American ideal — the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.
Eric Mar is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Eric Quezada is executive director of Dolores Street Community Services in San Francisco.