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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

Jesuit Massacre Still Haunts Salvadorans After 20 Years

Republished with permission of New American Media

Written by Mary Jo McConahay, Originally posted: Nov. 16, 2009

SAN SALVADOR — Twenty years ago, three colleagues and I were the first reporters on the scene of the murders here of six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter, a turning point in the civil war that cost 75,000 other Salvadoran lives. As gatherings the world over commemorate the special anniversary, I remember details of that morning I do not want to forget.

“They’ve killed Ellacuria,” said the young priest in the hotel parking lot.

He had rushed over to tell reporters, he said, and we were the first he met.

We reserved belief. The death of Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of San Salvador’s Jesuit university and a world-renowned theologian, had been announced more than once during the civil war. We jumped into a jeep anyway.

At the university side gate, we knocked on a black iron door. From across the street, a soldier in a guardhouse kept watch. Guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) had been trying for six days to take over the capital. The army was fighting back with all the U.S.-supplied arms and aircraft it had. At this hour of morning, just after curfew lifted, you didn’t know what lay behind any closed door.

Inside, on the grass, we saw four bundles covered with white sheets stained with what looked like blood.

“Come with me,” said José María Tojeira, the Jesuits’ Central America provincial. My colleagues, radio reporters, were already striding with their mics toward two clerics, one elderly and one very young, who stood gazing at the bundles. I followed Tojeira.

“Come, look,” he said as we stepped inside the residence.

A man lay lifeless in the hall. A priest, I supposed, but not Ellacuria. A smear of crimson streaked the floor. Tojeira stood by an open door to one of the rooms. He didn’t speak, but tilted his head for me to look inside. A narrow room with a small bed and books, one fallen on the floor, next to a man’s body, some blood. Not like knife wounds, likely bullets. I wrote in my reporter’s notebook furiously, sloppily, tethering myself to the pages. Each time, Tojeira waited.

Instead of returning to the garden, however, we descended a short flight of outdoor steps. A door stood ajar. I asked myself what more might be possible.

The body of a woman lay over that of a girl. The woman’s remains faced the door, as if she had stood in front of the girl at the last moment. I could hardly breathe. My own daughter was three at the time.

By the time Tojeira and I ascended to the garden once more, news photographers had arrived.

“Father, you have to take the covers off the bodies,” I said.

Tojeira looked alarmed for a moment, then decisive.

“Promise me that these pictures, all this, will reach the Jesuits, will be known,” he said.

I felt a jolt. Tojeira’s words told me he was uncertain whether he would live through the day. Jesuits, most notably Ellacuria, had had the ear of both sides in the civil war, from President Alfredo Cristiani of the right-wing ARENA party, to leftist FMLN commanders. The scholar-priests pushed for a negotiated, non-military solution. To radical rightists, this was intolerable. A call for “Death to Jesuits” had surfaced, along with threats to others in the atmosphere of war.

I knew the photographers. I promised Tojeira. The sheets came off.

There was Ellacuria, still in his bathrobe, looking up, as if he had faced his killer. There was Ignacio Martin-Baro, the psychologist I had first met in San Francisco years before, when he explained to me how difficult it was to treat traumatic stress while people were drowning in war. Segundo Montes lay there, the sociologist to whom we always went for facts about the exodus that was making Los Angeles the second largest El Salvadoran city. He had tracked the uprooting carefully, sadly, holding back anger -– it seemed to me -– when he had described how the war was separating families, and emptied old towns.

I did not know the other priests who died that day, Amando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno. I did not know (but felt I did) the cook and her daughter, Julia Elba Ramos and Celina Ramos. When I visited the place of the murders recently, I saw that the roses Julia’s husband planted in the days after the massacre had grown to dominate the garden. Ellacuria’s brown bathrobe hung behind glass in the nearby museum.

An engineering student named Martin sat in the little room I had last seen disheveled and smelling of death, with the bodies of the two women on the floor. Young Martin was describing to visitors the history of that day, allowing them to choose which of two photo albums they wanted to see, one that was more “difficult” to pore through, and one that was “softer.” How in God’s name, I wondered, might there be a “soft” version of the images I saw?

I did not feel like speaking, but carried away something I heard Martin say. He was only a toddler on that day 20 years ago, but as he learned how the men worked to end the war, minister among the suffering, and how they died, he decided to join others volunteering for the “museum.”

“We cannot allow forgetting,” he said.

Journalist Mary Jo McConahay’s “Maya Roads, Travels through Space and Time in the American Rainforest,” will appear in 2011, from Chicago Review Press