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Shifting Towards the Middle Ground

Illustration by Jose Hernandez.

I’m helping set-up for a sobriety checkpoint; I have my safety vest on over my uniform and bulletproof vest. That was me two summers ago volunteering as a cadet explorer at my local Police Department. I took pride in being a cadet since I felt a strong connection to my community through my volunteer work.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 353, which will become effective January 1, 2012. According to the Official California Legislative Information, AB 353 will prohibit law enforcement to tow an unlicensed driver’s vehicle during a sobriety checkpoint if the driver’s only offense is not having a valid driver’s license. Instead, law enforcement must release the vehicle to a licensed driver whether it’s the registered owner or any licensed driver without the owner’s consent.

My pride was shaken recently in my Chicana/o lecture. My peers had negative sentiments towards law enforcement from their personal experiences, or through their studies. It was the first time I heard that sobriety checkpoints target immigrant communities, specifically, undocumented individuals. I was shocked; this never crossed my mind. In my eyes, police officers were approachable, caring, mentors and most importantly friends. My peer’s comments disturbed me and made me feel guilty. I worked alongside police officers and I too was being associated with these negative feelings. I knew that whatever I said was not going to change my peers’ opinion.

Protesting for AB 353, Yesenia, an undocumented student, said she looks forward to learning how to drive. She restrained for fear like her unlicensed brother that she would be stopped, have her car towed, miss a class exam, and forced to pay a quarter’s tuition for a class she will no longer receive credit for, as well as pay impound fees to retrieve the car. According to UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program and the California Watch, 17,419 vehicles were towed during the 2010 fiscal year. At most 70 percent were from undocumented unlicensed drivers.

Anti-immigrant groups state that driving will become more “dangerous.” Though many undocumented drivers do happen to be unlicensed drivers, this is not by choice. In 1993, California passed SB 976 requiring residents to provide a Social Security number and proof of valid California residency.

California will probably adopt Utah’s Driving Privilege Card (DPC), allowing undocumented individuals to drive after completion of a driver’s test. However, the card cannot act as a form of identification. In red-bold capital letters it states, “Not valid for identification driving privilege only,” along with a red outline around the driver’s picture that reminds us that driving is a “Privilege.”

As a cadet, I see this benefiting undocumented individuals and law enforcement. Undocumented individuals who have DPC will be able to obtain car insurance and register their car. Through DPC police officers will be able to identify all drivers and determine whether an individual has any warrants, felonies, or a criminal history. This will allow officers to determine how to approach a person. The fear of approaching or letting go an unidentified dangerous individual will be eliminated since every driver will have some form of identification through a driver’s license or a DPC.

California needs to shift its attention from the racist undertone of citizenship-status point of view and focus on whether undocumented drivers actually know how to drive. AB 353 along with the adoption of a DPC will keep our roads safe. It will allow undocumented individuals to live an efficient life without the fear of getting one’s vehicle towed and the economic hardships that follow. Ultimately, everyone will feel more comfortable living in one’s home.

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