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Americas Now 11/05/2012 The dreamer

11-05-2012 11:04 BJT

By CCTV correspondent Craig Mauro

Michel Garcia grew up in a middle-class suburb outside the city of Chicago, where he excelled in high school, graduating early and with honors. In his junior year, though - a time when American high school students apply to universities - he faced a reality most of his friends did not.

"Being an undocumented student was tough, because I saw all my friends going off to college, and I knew that I wanted that too, for my future”, he says.

Garcia's parents migrated to the United States from Mexico illegally when he was five-years-old, making him an undocumented immigrant also.

Even though he talks, acts and looks like an American, Garcia has no social security number - the national ID used for most official transactions. While you don't need a social security card to get into college, you do need one when applying for a bank loan or scholarship fund.

"Most of the scholarships that are given out are needs-based, they're based on your parents' income, which is determined by your social security”, Garcia explains. “I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get financial aid, let alone loans from the government, and my parents didn't make nearly enough to be able to pay for tuition”.

There are hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States who are thought to be in situations similar to Garcia's - children of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants here, brought across the border illegally by no choice of their own. U.S. authorities can legally deport them back to their countries of birth at any moment.

With the goal of overhauling the immigration law, President Barack Obama introduced legislation known as the Dream Act in 2009 to allow certain children of immigrants to apply for temporary residence. The bill did not make it through Congress, so Obama took the unusual step this summer of signing an executive decree that would grant similar status.

"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag” President Obama stated at a press conference last year.“They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one - on paper”.

Successful applicants will receive a two-year work visa, although the decree does not clarify what happens after those expire. Obama called the program a stop-gap measure until broader reform is enacted.

And, last August, just two months after the president's announcement, the federal government began accepting applications for what is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Thousands of young undocumented people came forward, signing up for assistance at events like this one in Chicago, effectively admitting to the government that they have no legal papers. 

Under the program, anyone under the age of 31 who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16, has no criminal record and can prove they are either in school or graduated from high school can apply for the two-year work permit.

Rudy Lozano and The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights have led the efforts state-wide to assist applicants, known as "Dreamers," a term coined from the name of the original legislation.


Lozano says that there has been excitement amongst the Latino community about the opportunity to work legally, to not have to worry about deportation for students going to school, for families, for parents. “On the other hand there's also the fear”, he explains.“Giving up as much information as people are giving up to the US Immigration Services is something to worry about, so there's a lot of reluctance as well. They're a little nervous about the upcoming elections, to be honest, about what happens if someone gets elected that's not in favor of this program”.

The numbers vary according to which organization you ask, but there are believed to be between 1 million and 1.7 million young people in the United States who qualify for the deferred action program.  As of October 10th, the US immigration service says it has accepted nearly 180,000 applications, and of those, nearly 4,500 of those people already approved for work permits and another 165,000 are being processed.

Despite the uncertainty hanging over program, politicians who support it insist it will be very difficult to undo completely now that it has begun.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has repeatedly said he would veto the Dream Act if it ever came to his desk as president. For several weeks after the deferred action decree, he did not say how he would handle the issue if elected, leading some to believe he would rescind the work permits. At the beginning of October, however, Romney told the Denver Post newspaper:
"The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I'm not going to take something that they've purchased."

Romney says that if elected he will pursue immigration reform that he says would include a "permanent solution" for dreamers, and he would accomplish that before the current deferred-action visas expire.

Mr. Romney said the Deferred Dream Act  is a stark example of President Obama “playing politics” with young latinos. Instead, he pledges to pursue “permanent immigration reform”.

Regardless of who wins the election, immigrant rights activists see deferred action as an incomplete first step in what must be broader reform. The same groups that lobby for that are often also involved in mobilizing citizens in the Latino community to register to vote.

Vicente Del Real, a 23-year-old community organizer, has applied for deferred action. His parents brought him from Mexico to the Chicago area on a tourist visa when he was 15 and he never returned.

"It's 8 years now living the same way”, says Del Real. “You know something is wrong about you being here but you don't necessarily understand”.

 Despite not having a driver’s license or U.S. ID, Del Real drives out into the community most days to educate Latinos about voting or to promote immigration reform. If the police ever pull him over for a traffic violation, he could conceivably be deported from the country.

Latinos are now the largest minority in the U.S. population. As voter registration efforts like these, increase the group's power as a voting bloc will only become greater and the pressure for immigration reform will as well.

Says Lozano: "Deferred action was a great step forward, but we need much more…We want to fight for all of our families, for the parents of children who are applicable for deferred action. We want to fight for drivers licenses in the state of Illinois and across the country. We want a complete, comprehensive reform of the immigration system as it exists today”.
Critics say Obama's deferred action decree this summer was merely an attempt to garner votes for Tuesday's election.   Some states are pursuing their own reforms. Maryland voters will decide on Tuesday whether to allow children of undocumented immigrants to qualify for lower tuition at state colleges. A similar law was passed in Illinois in 2003.

Michel Garcia eventually found a way to attend the University of Illinois, finding a scholarship that did not require U.S. citizenship. He is now studying biochemistry and plans to become a doctor.

"One of the biggest things about being an undocumented student is networking and having the courage to say that you're undocumented and looking for the support network”, he says solemnly.

If Garcia is granted deferred action, he intends to find a paying job while he goes to school.

Vicente Del Real says he plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in political science to further the career he has begun:

"I didn't take the decision to come to this country and I learned to love and know this country as my own country. Just as I had my life in Mexico eight years ago, I have my life here now. I love the people that I know. I have my community, just as I do in Mexico. I try to do whatever I can to make my community better”.

Editor:James |Source: CCTV.com

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