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New Bill May Save Undocumented Students from Deportation

Previously Published in IExaminer, News report, Paul Kim, Posted: Feb 24, 2010

On March 15, 2009, Alonso Chehade, an undocumented immigrant from Peru, was arrested at the US/Canada border for unlawful presence in the United States. After remaining in the detention center for two weeks, Chehade was later released with the assistance of his family, who posted a $7,500 bond to free him from prison.

For undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Chehade’s story is not uncommon. In 2007, three hundred thousand people were detained for illegally residing in the U.S. For the years between 2003 – 2008, deportation increased by 60 percent in the U.S. From these statistics, we can see that the number of deported immigrants is on the rise, which impacts the communities they live and work in.

Chehade’s experience as an undocumented immigrant is different from the first generation’s. The decision to live undocumented in the US was his parent’s decision, not Chehade’s. Therefore Chehade became an undocumented resident through no action of his own.

Enter the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors), a proposed bill that would give undocumented minors a chance to enlist in the military or go to school in the U.S., thus preparing a way for them to become citizens. Introduced by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the bill has not yet officially passed Congress. Yet with the help of certain individuals, this bill could pass soon, allowing people like Chehade to become citizens of the U.S. Without citizenship, undocumented immigrants cannot apply for government IDs, such as driver’s licenses and strips them of many opportunities that citizens take for granted.

“My hardships began when I went to UW,” said Chehade. “There were some things I wanted to do that I couldn’t do, like study abroad. I didn’t have enough money for going out of the state and I couldn‘t do internships. You need social security to do internships.”

Many other immigrants, like Ju Hong, an acquaintance of Chehade, have to work menial jobs that will hire undocumented workers.

“You can’t get a decent job because the only jobs are construction work or restaurant work,” said Hong. “You get low wages and are treated really badly.”

In addition to the numerous legal barriers students face, the social stigma attached to being an undocumented immigrant can make some feel they don’t belong to American society. One may be tempted to ask: “Why should we care for a resident who is living here illegally? Why can’t they go through normal channels to gain citizenship?” It is important in this circumstance to realize that people like Chehade and Hong had little control over their lives when they came to the U.S; their fates were decided by their parents. The DREAM Act allows qualifying individuals a chance to gain citizenship in the U.S. and pursue their dreams.

Chehade and Hong are working tirelessly to raise awareness regarding the DREAM Act. As the founder of DREAMERS for Positive Change, Chehade gets to connect with other individuals that have similar experiences to Chehade’s. Chehade’s case has also received the attention of numerous prominent politicians, such as Senator Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. While Hong participates in two organizations aiming to raise awareness about the DREAM act – the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco and Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.

Hong emphasizes: “I want to make it clear that the DREAM Act is not just for Latinos. There are 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., of which 2 million are Asians. In the Asian American community it is embarrassing to talk about these kinds of issues. But we have to step up and support the issue.”

So, if passed, what would the DREAM Act mean to the community at large? First, it would allow undocumented minors the opportunity to live legally in the U.S. as citizens. Since the bill is aimed at those minority residents aspiring to go to college, the bill would also help create educated and productive members of the community. Finally, the bill would reinforce the principles of the American Dream, which are founded on equal opportunity, equality, and diversity.

There are numerous ways to get involved in the passing of the DREAM Act. Calling your senator will inform him/her that immigration reform is a significant issue that needs to be addressed. Telling friends, family, and others about the DREAM Act would also raise awareness of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

The following link provides information on how to participate:dreamactivist.org

DREAMers: Taking the Reins of their Cause

By Maribel Hastings – New America Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. – One group that has changed dramatically since past immigration battles – with help from the growing influence of social networking – are the so-called “DREAMers”: undocumented youth who would benefit from the proposed DREAM Act. The act would form part of a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, and has also been proposed as an independent bill.

The DREAMers didn’t come here by choice. They were brought to the United States as young children, or were victims of the broken immigration bureaucracy. The DREAM Act, which has bipartisan support, would grant them a path to legalization if they completed their studies or joined the military.

Each year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools across the country.

Over the past decade the DREAM Act has been proposed in Congress as its own bill and as part of other immigration bills, including the failed attempts at reform in 2006 and 2007.

After the failure of the 2007 reform bill, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) proposed it as a separate piece of legislation, but couldn’t secure the 60 votes required for debate.

Juan, a student and member of the DREAMActivist network–and one of the bill’s potential beneficiaries—believes that the 2007 setback sparked the creation of a more organized national movement.

“I think the main difference between now and 2007 was our decision to use the tools at our disposal and saturate every media channel possible to put a face on our cause, to humanize the issue,” Juan told America’s Voice.

It’s a movement that relies on volunteers — not an easy task, since the majority of the DREAMers, in addition to being undocumented, lack the resources to make frequent lobbying visits to Washington. But they have succeeded in halting deportations and they are present in every corner of the country. Their fight has been depicted in films such as Papers, which has been shown in various cities.

United We Dream is the coalition of local and national organizations advocating for the DREAM Act. Dream Activist is “United We Dream’s interactive page,” explained Marisol Ramos, co-founder and board member of the coalition and the New York State Youth Leadership Council.

The network aims to explain to the public and Congress that legalization doesn’t just make sense for humanitarian reasons, but also for economic competitiveness, as it would allow the US to tap an enormous quarry of talent.

Juan emphasized that the United States already allows undocumented students to attend elementary school, middle school and high school. “It’s like planting a fruit tree and then leaving the fruit to rot. They’re not benefiting from their own investment,” he pointed out.

Ironically, while the government promotes programs to encourage minority students — particularly Hispanics — not to drop out of school, it doesn’t legalize those who want to continue studying, or have completed their studies and want to work.

The DREAMers have established an organizational model that has enabled them to mobilize their cause without central offices or a budget of millions of dollars.

“Almost 100% of our work is voluntary,” declared Ramos, who, in addition to her regular workday, dedicates another seven hours of work to promote the DREAM Act on social-networking sites.

For Ramos, the setbacks of 2007 “confronted us with a cruel reality, but we’ve matured politically and we’ve made ourselves better activists.”

Walter Lara, whose deportation was suspended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told America’s Voice, “my case is a good example of the DREAMers’ organizing capacity.” Compared to 2007, “there are definitely more organizations, they’re using the Web more than ever, they’re interacting effectively with other groups, and they’re taking advantage of every opportunity in social networks and traditional media to promote their cause,” he declared.

But the debate surrounding the DREAM Act has been complicated.

Part of the opposition comes from those who always complain about undocumented immigrants being “rewarded.” Others oppose certain provisions in the DREAM Act, such as the one offering legalization in exchange for military service.

And still others argue that passing the DREAM Act separately would hurt efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. The same would be true of legalizing agricultural workers, they say. Without those two sectors, they worry that there won’t be the political will to consider the rest of the undocumented population.

But Ramos noted that many of the parents or relatives of the DREAMers are undocumented, and the wisdom they’ve gained in the process “has made them better activists and they’re ready not only to promote the DREAM Act, but other causes as well.”

“In the long term, this will help any cause,” Juan concluded.

The DREAM Act has been reintroduced in the current session of Congress.

In the Senate, it has been introduced as S. 729 by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). The bill has 32 cosponsors and has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The corresponding House bill, which has 105 cosponsors and counting, is H.R. 1751.