Immigrant Students, DREAM Act Supporters Hoping Obama Will Take Up Their Cause

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

As the much-anticipated presidential inauguration of Barack Obama approaches, one group of immigrant activists in particular is feverishly pushing for their cause to be heard by the incoming president. They are young undocumented immigrant students who grew up in the U.S. and their supporters, who are hoping that the new administration will push for passage of the DREAM Act, a law that would allow the students to become U.S. citizens provided they meet certain conditions.

Undocumented students, hoping to come out of the shadows.

Hoping to come out of the shadows. (Video capture: ADreamDeferred.org)

Their cause got an extra bit of support through an online contest organized by Change.org, a social action network (not to be confused with the president-elect’s website Change.gov.)

For the last few weeks, the site hosted an online vote to select “the best ten ideas for change,” which will be announced today at an event at the National Press Club.

The contest was born as a response to Obama’s call to Americans to get involved in their government. “We started the Ideas for Change in America initiative in the hope that we could translate the energy behind the Obama election into a citizen-led movement for change around the major issues we face,” the organizers said.

Thousands of ideas were submitted and over 600,000 votes were cast. Activists for causes as varied as marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and green energy mobilized to make their voices heard and to gather votes for their ideas. As of 5pm EST Thursday, when the vote closed, passage of the DREAM Act stood in eighth place, making it one of the ten winners. (Marijuana legalization was first.)

Undocumented students campaigned actively online to drum up votes for their cause, as one of them narrates here.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would give undocumented students brought to the U.S. by their parents conditional legal status and eventual citizenship if they met all of the following requirements:

  • they were brought to the United States before they turned 16, are below the age of 30,
  • have lived here continuously for five years,
  • graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED
  • have good moral character with no criminal record and
  • attend college or enlist in the military.

The DREAM Act emerged in response to the plight of thousands of immigrant students who, after growing up here, could not continue a normal life after graduating from high school or college because of the manner in which they entered the country — many of them when they were infants.

“Many American students graduate from college and high school each year, and face a roadblock to their dreams: they can’t drive, can’t work legally, can’t further their education, and can’t pay taxes to contribute to the economy just because they were brought to this country illegally by their parents or lost legal status along the way,” Change.org said.

The bill was in Congress in 2007. But it failed a Senate vote to defeat a Republican filibuster. On the occasion, The New York Times editorial board commented,

Who could be threatened, after all, by new high school graduates who were brought here by their parents, grew up in America, and yearn to get a college degree or to serve the country in uniform — but are stuck in a paperwork trap that can’t be opened?

But the Senate’s message was like a speech from a prison warden in a bad juvenile-delinquent movie: You’re illegal. You’re going to stay that way. We don’t like your kind.

DreamActivist.org, a site created by undocumented students, has plenty of stories of those who would benefit from this bill. Like that of Piash, a Bangladeshi-born student, who says he only learned that he was undocumented during his sophomore year of high school.

“I came home to show my parents that I got a 100 on my driver’s ed class and I wanted to go to DMV to get my learner’s permit,” he writes. “My parents told me that my dad’s asylum case was still pending in court and they didn’t know how long it would take… I was an American in every way except where it really mattered: documents.” (DreamActivist lists dozens of blogs started by other students.)

In addition to this largely symbolic victory, the students’ cause seems to have won one of the most important votes: that of the incoming president, who has expressed his support for the bill in the past. Now, they hope Obama will help make it law.

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