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‘We are fighting for our lives’ with DREAM Act

September 25, 2010

By Gaby Pacheco, Special to CNN September 22, 2010 1:18 p.m. EDT

original article: http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/09/22/pacheco.dream.act/index.html

Editor’s note: Gaby Pacheco is an undocumented student who walked with three other immigrant students early this year on a “Trail of DREAMs” demonstration from Miami, Florida, to Washington, with the goal of educating people about their struggle as immigrant youth. She is an organizer with the online organizing group Presente.org and has been an active voice among national youth leaders on behalf of passage of the DREAM Act.

(CNN) — Yesterday was a tough day to be a DREAMer.

The Senate voted to not move on the defense authorization bill with the DREAM Act as one of the amendments. For most political commentators, the vote was a death sentence, and media outlets carried the obituaries with such headlines as: “DREAM Act dies with rejection of defense bill.”

But there’s a funny thing about dreams — the only people who can kill them are the people who have them. And I am writing here to tell you, on behalf of the more than one million young people who would be affected by the DREAM Act, that its death is greatly exaggerated.

In the past month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has emerged as the greatest champion of the DREAM Act, which would allow young undocumented immigrants like me, who were brought here as children, a pathway to citizenship through college education or military service.

My own story? I’ve been in the United States since I was 7 years old in 1993, when I emigrated from Ecuador with my family and settled in Miami, Florida. I consider myself to be an all-American girl. I was part of the ROTC program during high school, and after graduation wanted to enlist in the Air Force. Because of my undocumented status, I could not. But I went to college and now hold a bachelor’s degree in special education. I’m pursuing a master’s in public policy. There are many others like me.

While there is little doubt that Reid’s re-election fight plays into his priorities, I heard him speak on the Senate floor yesterday, and I am confident his support for DREAM is real.

I also know that the failure of the defense bill amendment does not mean that Reid has no cards left to play. That’s why I and thousands of others — including the national online group Presente.org — are calling on Reid to bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor as a stand-alone bill.

There are those who say that a stand-alone bill is the wrong move. I think they are wrong, and here’s why:

Several Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and my own Sen. George LeMieux (D-Florida), said they support DREAM, but voted against it because it was an amendment to a Defense bill.

If they are true to their word, then they should vote yes on a standalone bill, and DREAM should pass. If their promises are empty, then their bluff should be called, and they should be forced to explain themselves to the more than 70 percent of Americans who support this bill.

Several senators, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have previously been supporters of DREAM, and have only recently changed their positions with the midterm elections nearing. If their change of heart is because of pure political pandering, then the more times they are forced to vote against DREAM, the more their constituents will see them putting politics in front of the heartfelt needs of their constituents.

But make no mistake, the question is no longer whether the DREAM Act will pass, but when. I don’t say that because I am some wide-eyed optimist. I say it because the young people fighting for DREAM are among the best and brightest of this great country, and their will is stronger than any legislative procedure.

Many of us have gotten arrested in legislative offices, camped out in front of the White House, and even some, like me, walked 1,500 miles from Miami to our nation’s capital to educate people about our struggle as undocumented youth. We are a movement now, and we will not rest until we reach our goal.

If there is no vote on DREAM now, we will demand one when Congress returns after the elections. If no bill is introduced then, then we will keep coming back each year until our DREAM is realized. And every day that Congress fails us will just make us stronger.

Because in the end, what we are fighting for is something much bigger than what our opponents seek. For us, this is not about convincing Americans that we should “secure our borders” before we “grant immigration reform.” Nor is it about affecting the elections in November.

We are fighting for the ability to be full fledged human beings in the only country we have known as home. In other words, when we fight for the DREAM Act, we are fighting for our lives. And when you’re fighting for your life, you don’t stop until you win.

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Passion and Politics on Immigration Act

September 22, 2010
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
Published: September 21, 2010

original article here

WASHINGTON — Cesar Vargas graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, just like Senators Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont.

And like his fellow Madison alumni, Mr. Vargas wants to serve his country — in his case by becoming a military lawyer after he graduates from the City University of New York law school, where he is in his third year.

But Mr. Vargas, who was brought by his parents to the United States from Mexico when he was 5, cannot join the armed forces. He cannot vote. He cannot travel outside the country or he will not be allowed to return because he is an illegal immigrant.

On Tuesday, he was in Washington to help Democrats press for legislation that would give immigrants like him a path to citizenship.

The legislation, known as the Dream Act, would give legal residency to immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16 and resided here for at least five years, earned a high school degree and completed two years of college or military service. They would be subject to background checks, could not have a criminal record and, even if successful, would still not be eligible for benefits like Pell grants.

At a news conference with Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who is a leading champion of the legislation, Mr. Vargas made an impassioned pitch for the bill.

“Without the Dream Act, I’m relegated to a mere shadow,” he said, after recounting his longtime hopes of joining the military. He said he had repeatedly tried to enlist, especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but was turned away.

“I’m asking Congress to give us the opportunity to serve the only country we know, the only country we call home,” he said.

But this week, Senate Democrats seemed more intent on talking about the act than on passing it. By declaring his desire to attach it to a major military bill, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, sought to remind Hispanic voters that most Democrats supported the immigration measure. The military bill was blocked on Tuesday, and it is unclear that Mr. Reid has enough votes, even among Democrats, to advance the Dream Act.

Some advocates said young immigrants were political pawns.

“The tragedy is that the kids believe it is an honest process and get played by both sides,” said Kevin Appleby, director of immigration policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It can be very disheartening to them. They deserve a simple majority vote based on the merits, not one caught up in procedure and pre-election politics.”

Julia Preston contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 22, 2010, on page A18 of the New York edition.

Inhospitable Wind

September 14, 2010

by Immigrant Friend

When it comes to immigration, I try to avoid the news. I’ve generally stayed apprised of current events, but when it comes to immigration, the topic is too painful. The subject and its implications, the rhetoric, are put out of mind. I pray for help for my husband who has lived undocumented in the US for twenty years, and for the throngs of people like him. Then I try to trust… and forget about it.

Sometimes thoughts about immigration, about the vulnerability surrounding my husband and our lives, come unbidden during the fragile, silent hours of the night. They slink through the sieve of my defenses like particles of silt. I look over at my husband where he sleeps, placid and beautiful as dew on a leaf, and try not to imagine what could happen if our luck turned. When these thoughts won’t recoil, I imagine our living in another country, being separated from family and friends, being forced to leave the place that is our home.

Sometimes a headline will grab me and against protective instincts I follow it. This week a headline led to an article on the effort of some Republican senators to end the “birthright citizenship” ensured by the 14th Amendment so that babies born in the US to undocumented immigrants will not be US citizens. More than 90 members of the House are co-sponsoring this bill to block the 14th, a post-abolition amendment written in 1868 to ensure citizenship for the children of ex-slaves. The undertones of the anti-14th effort are hard to ignore. Supporters use dehumanizing language saying that immigrants cross the border just to “drop a child and leave” (the words of Senator Lindsey Graham). They say the babies of undocumented immigrants amount to a “virtual tax on US citizens to subsidize illegal aliens” (guardian.co.uk 8/3/10). What a way to speak of children.

When I read things like this, I feel a chill troubling wind. It is a wind familiar to ethic minorities in the US, a wind that whispers “Get out. You are not wanted here. You are less than human in our eyes.” Until now, my white skin and middle-class life have shielded me from its sting. Now, as the immigration debate heats up and anti-immigration groups take the offensive, my skin feels the sting of these attacks. The consequences of the debate have the potential to disrupt, on a mind-boggling scale, the daily life my husband and I share. No matter how strong our faith that God will care for us wherever we end up, we can’t help but sense the threat. This is how it feels for millions of Americans with immediate family members living and working in the US without papers. This is how it feels, for people like my husband, to be the unwelcome stranger.

Arizona is in the news… So, where is Oregon?

September 7, 2010

by Tyler Olson

For many folks the heated debate over immigration may seem a bit distant, or even irrelevant, in relation to life here in the Pacific Northwest. Arizona is a long way away and the debate seems to be concentrated there for now. Senate Bill 1070 is likely to be the most discussed legislation that the country is dealing with currently. Daily, newscasters from nearly every state and every media outlet make mention of the current proceedings, interviewing community members, employers, activists, political junkies and the like. If one only faintly tunes in to these conversations and arguments, one can quickly presume that the nation as a whole senses the grave seriousness of this discourse.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has a large immigrant population, yet many people may not be aware of the depth and breadth of what is going on here locally—legislatively and policy wise. This to say, with the national debate over immigration reform at hand, and the disturbing question regarding  how to proceed in Arizona, the pensive and enduring murmur of conversation is beginning to localize: “So what about Oregon?”

It may come as no surprise that Oregon is waist deep in its own legislative controversies directly  affecting immigrant communities. In fact, two years ago Oregon passed Senate Bill 1080 (not to be confused with Arizona’s SB 1070), essentially making it mandatory that one must be a “legal” resident in order to obtain a DMV issued drivers license or ID. There are a variety of opinions as to why this legislation was enacted, nevertheless it is not misleading to suggest the immigrant communities—especially Latino communities—in the state have been the predominant demographic affected by its implementation.

Essentially, this legislation makes it impossible for undocumented folks—and many documented individuals as well—to obtain or renew a DMV issued driver’s license or ID, for it requires that one have a government issued Social Security.

Immigrant labor is a vital part of Oregon’s economic and social community. Nearly half of Oregon’s labor intensive workforce receiving substandard wages—i.e. farmworkers, day laborers, housekeepers, cannery workers, etc.—is Latino. In many cases, the work they are involved in is rural—far removed from any public transit line.  Therefore, these folks must drive to work. If there is no avenue through which they can legally acquire a driver’s license, people will do whatever it takes to put food in their bellies and a roof over their families’ heads. This means driving.

Therefore, this legislation provokes people to break the law out of necessity.

If this precarious law is upheld, in the coming years, as more individuals’ licenses expire, Oregon will begin to see its negative effects more openly as a large percentage of the labor force is impacted. As folks who have obtained licenses prior to its implementation are unable to apply for renewal, tough questions will be asked and decisions will be made: Do I continue driving to keep my job and risk being stopped and deported? Do we move the family to another state and risk not finding work? Are there any other options?…

With this insight, one may realize that this legislation is bound to affect these immigrant communities, as well as the social and economic situation of the state as a whole. Though, for immigrant folks in particular—equal members of society, providing positive contributions to the community—who are actively seeking to live lawfully within the state, this legislative change is seriously harming them. For it deprives them of a necessary resource while infringing on their human dignity.

As sisters and brothers of faith, we must consider this, and work to initiate and support positive, constructive, and sustainable change.

Link to Senate Bill 1080:

http://www.leg.state.or.us/08ss1/measpdf/sb1000.dir/sb1080.a.pdf

Tyler Olson is currently living in Portland, Oregon studying Conflict Resolution at Portland State University. Prior to graduate school he spent two years abroad, working in Honduras as a middle school literature teacher. He received his BA from George Fox University in Religion and Christian Ministries.

Trenton Gets it Right

August 31, 2010

New York Times Editorial Board

original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/opinion/23sun3.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

A coalition of community groups in Trenton is issuing photo identification cards to illegal immigrants. The cards are not government IDs, though they are accepted by many check-cashing companies, libraries, stores, and medical clinics, and at public parks and pools.

Giving unofficial IDs to undocumented immigrants defies the prevailing winds in other states and localities, where the public mood, and sometimes local statute, defines all immigrants without papers as criminals. These places make no distinction between dangerous law-breakers and peaceable workers and families, between those who harm a community and those who build it up.

They see the difference in Trenton — and in Princeton, New Haven, San Francisco and other cities. The Trenton police and the Mercer County sheriff and prosecutor’s office have endorsed the cards. Trenton’s coalition — a project of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund — includes churches, civic associations, the Fire Department and public schools.

All these groups, most significantly the law enforcement agencies, know that having ID is vital to fighting crime, treating the sick and injured, and making business and society function. They know that a community of anonymous members is no community at all.

In Arizona, a new law enshrines the opposite view. “The intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona,” it says. “Attrition through enforcement” is the fantasy that illegal immigrants will deport themselves by the millions if the government can make them sufficiently miserable and frightened.

Arizona and Trenton are both grappling with a broken immigration system, where millions live outside the law. Arizona’s approach is: Stay anonymous and afraid and then maybe you’ll get out. Trenton’s is: Tell us who you are, and help us build a community. Neither solution will solve the big problem. But it is clear which is the more effective, humane and responsible.

BORDERLANDS: Clandestine Journeys to the Periphery

August 24, 2010

by Rosemarie Milazo
original article: http://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2010/08/10/borderlands-clandestine-journeys-periphery

When the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, he spoke of the humanitarian aid his group offers the broken world. As part of his acceptance speech he said “Hundreds of thousands of our contemporaries are forced to leave their lands and family to search for work, to educate their children and to stay alive. Men and women risk their lives to embark on clandestine journeys only to end up in a hellish immigration detention center, or barely surviving on the periphery of our so called civilized world.”

Working this summer with CPT partner No More Deaths, I met many who traveled a clandestine journey to the periphery.

I met more deported migrants than last year who say they simply give up. They can endure no more clandestine trips in the desert, no more frightened lives in our lan d of liberty.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) has become more diligent in their search…appearing in schools, noon day Mass at the Catholic Church, checking passengers in cars and appearing in work places.

One migrant spoke of the number of Homeland Security agents he had to pass through before he even saw Immigration Officials. “Who is paying all these salaries?” he asked.

Another spoke of seeing a person in the desert, not sure if he was sleeping. He called “paisano, paisano.” When there was no answer, he threw some rocks to wake him, but there was still no movement. He sadly moved on his clandestine journey, leaving a dead person behind in the desert.

One young woman sobbed uncontrollably as she told us that she had lost her husband in the desert. His feet were torn by thorns and blisters and bleeding. He could not keep up and she heard him call out “Don’t leave me”. The coyote would not allow her to go back as it was to o dangerous to delay. He assured her that the others were helping him along. When she broke loose and ran back, he was not with the group. She turned herself in to the Border Patrol and went back to search for him. He was no where to be found and she came back to Mexico without him. She told us that in her dreams, she hears him call, “don’t leave me….”

I wondered about our “civilized world” as I walked through a border crossing point, watching the U.S. agent pull aside one man. He led him into a nearby room where I watched a gloved agent move towards him, his shoes flying across the room past another young man shackled to a chair.

I touched the periphery of our civilized world in the Tucson courtroom in the judicial process where five days a week, 70 migrants are led in, hands and feet in shackles, presumably guilty before being found innocent.

How many more lives are we placing on the periphery?

US Immigration: laws made to be broken?

August 20, 2010

by Immigrant Friend

Many US citizens begin their thought-processes about immigration with the following assumption: people who are in the US illegally are law-breakers and must be held accountable for breaking the law. My husband, who came to the US illegally twenty years ago, is according to this logic a law-breaker who must pay by leaving the US.

I ask people of this mindset to consider the following facts:

1. Across the US are many towns where the US-citizen population of those towns cannot fill the jobs available. Furthermore, the jobs in those towns are low-paying (minimum wage or just above) and the cost of living in those towns is high, so US residents do not relocate to those communities to fill the jobs. Communities all across the US have factories, agricultural businesses, restaurants, or tourism outlets that leave them in this predicament. Therefore, they rely on an influx of foreign-born workers willing to do the necessary jobs and accept the lower standard of living that accompanies them. Because of this situation, the US border is marked by two blaring signs: one says “Keep Out” and the other says “Help Wanted.”

2. Avenues for legal immigration have largely been closed off to Mexicans and Central and South Americans since the 1990s. This strict border closure from the south became more pronounced after September 11, 2001. A chart that can be viewed here (scroll down to see chart) shows how few immigrants from the south are granted entry into the US by legal means. The chart, entitled “How Long Must I Wait” shows, by country of origin, how long an immigrant must wait to receive a green card. While a 40-year-old British man will wait 6 months on average, a 30-year-old Mexican high school graduate with a sibling who is a US citizen will wait on average 131 years.

3. US economic policies of the last 20+ years have had detrimental effects on the Mexican economy. (The large majority of undocumented workers in the US are from Mexico). Within three years of the institution of NAFTA, one million Mexican farmers were put out of business, unable to compete with the highly-subsidized US agricultural sector. Shortly thereafter, the peso crashed and the real wages of Mexicans declined by 27 percent. Unemployment in Mexico grew dramatically following NAFTA while US businesses have profited exponentially. Not surprisingly, illegal immigration from Mexico to the US soared in the aftermath of NAFTA.

4. Many Mexican families are split between two countries. The impulse to be near ones spouse and/or one’s children is inconceivably strong, no matter what obstacles stand in the way of reuniting with them.

In my estimation, the preceding facts create an impossible situation, which is why US immigration policy is broken and must be revised.

The entire US economic system requires that immigration laws be broken. This is evident most starkly in the US agricultural sector, which could not begin to function without the breaking of laws related to immigration. Many parties, from farmers, to stores, to factory owners, to restaurant and hotel owners, to undocumented workers break laws in order for our economic system to function, but the ones branded “criminals” and forced to pay for the law-breaking are the severely low-income, severely under-employed Mexicans, and Central and South Americans who come to the US to find work. They break the law in search of a better future for themselves and their families. But they are certainly not the only ones breaking the laws. In fact, all Americans who benefit from the low prices made possible by foreign workers are party to this law breaking. We are all culpable in the system that makes the law-breaking necessary. Most Americans do not want to pay dramatically higher prices to take vacations, to eat out, or to buy produce at the grocery store. Thus, we implicitly want the system to function as it does.

I am tempted to call the US immigration system dysfunctional. But “dysfunction” is a matter of perspective. If the system is designed to profit Americans, especially American businesses, while granting the fewest benefits possible to our less “wealthy,” less powerful southern neighbors, then the system functions perfectly.

My husband graduated at the top of his high school class in the years directly following the institution of NAFTA. He and his fellow graduates faced very little hope of good employment if they remained in Mexico. Those who chose to come to the US “illegally” simply participated in a broad system that has profited US citizens impressively over the last 20 years. If he and those like him are deported as a result of their actions, what justice is there in that? What about the employers who have profited from their labors all these years? What about the Americans, you and I, who have profited from the low prices they have helped to maintain?