Across the USA, DREAMers prepare to be free

Since June 15, undocumented youth across the country, or DREAMers, as we’ve come to known them as eligible to participate of a future DREAM Act, started relishing a short-term opportunity of becoming free to be, to participate and work, as beneficiaries of the latest in a roller coaster of maybe’s in the last four years, the deferred action policy.

This new policy, which will start taking applications August 15, offers to defer a potential deportation and stabilize the youth’s life for two years. It includes employment authorization.

Benny Veliz, who became one of the first faces of the DREAMer movement when her story made national news in 2009, finally got her deportation charges dropped last year and although she’s been protected from deportation, Benny has been in an immigrants’ limbo ever since and could be deported, even after being stopped for a minor driving infraction.

Benny says that she will definitely apply this Monday.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney has already made it clear there will be no DREAM Act if he becomes president and has declared he will have a ‘permanent solution’ to the problem of undocumented immigration. As a matter of fact, he’s said striking down deferred action policy will be one of the first things he’ll do as president.

President Obama has continued to play a carrot and stick number, and stated that he won’t give up on immigration reform as long as he is president. Detractors have pointed out that if low priority enforcement is not taking place, why would deferred action be any different.

Still, DREAMers remained positive that this will at least provide breathing room until a true immigration reform takes place.

Lizardo Buleje, who recently graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and faced an uncertain future when he woke up on the morning of June 15th, was brimming with excitement and anticipation that afternoon.

“This morning’s Breaking News has been the best news I have received in years. Finally, the hard work of all Dreamers has paid off, but this is only the beginning, this is only the first step. Tonight, Dreamers are united again and will be celebrating the amazing news; however, tomorrow is time for us to go out and show the United States and the world that this was NOT a mistake. We are going to finish school (in my case, my Master’s Degree), get jobs, become professionals, and help our home and beloved country, the United States, succeed,” said Buleje after hearing the news.

Buleje was part of a group of undocumented youth who went on a hunger strike to demonstrate for the DREAM Act a couple of years ago. He’s now counting the hours to August 15th and will be applying to get a fresh and more exciting start in life as a free man.

On your marks, get ready, go
Around the country, more than a million young undocumented have a file filled with documents they’ll be ready and excited to turn in on Monday, their life in the United States documented through school and college transcripts, record of vaccinations, driver’s license, passport, and other papers. They’ll be more than happy to pay the fee of $465 in exchange for coming out of the shadows.

“When a million or more young immigrants begin signing up for deferred action on August 15, it will be hard to hold back the tears.  You cannot overstate how important this moment will be in immigrant communities and Latino neighborhoods across the country. The excitement is electric and will not be dampened by House and Senate Republicans threatening to sue the President or take other actions to squelch young people’s dreams,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis:

  1. Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
  2. Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum (June 15, 2012);
  3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
  5. Are not above the age of thirty.

Organizations across the USA have been holding seminars, conference calls and webinars to instruct the potential beneficiaries as to how the process will work and what do they need to apply. Many will congregate this Monday to celebrate the date and start filing applications.

Rep. Gutierrez, with the help of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, will hold a DREAM Relief Day event in Chicago on August 15. The event will take place at the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, from 9:00 am to 2 pm. At that event, Gutierrez will be joined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, community organizations and volunteers and they expect over 1,000 eligible young people to come forward to get informed about the application process and to sign-up.

Rep. Gutierrez also said that they know of at least 20 events planned at different points in the country and that on August 2nd 20 Members of Congress pledged to help young immigrants receive clear and accurate information and get them signed up if they qualify.

For more info on the event and to check if you qualify for deferred action policy, click here.

To check the listing of events held for DREAMers on or about August 15 compiled by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement click here.

Video: Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez takes the floor of Congress to explain the new policy and send a special message to DREAMers

Who benefits from the Deferred Action Policy?
A report by the Immigration Policy Center sheds light over who will benefit.

There are approximately 1.4 million immigrants currently in the United States who might meet the requirements of the deferred action initiative, either now or when they are older. Roughly 936,930 immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 might immediately meet the requirements of the deferred action initiative. They comprise 69 percent of all potential beneficiaries. Approximately 426,330 immigrants between the ages of 5 and 14 might meet the requirements of the deferred action initiative at some point in the future if the initiative remains in place. They comprise 31 percent of all potential beneficiaries.

The IPC also stated that most DREAMers are Mexican and are found in big immigrant-receiving states with large unauthorized populations, such as California and Texas. Yet DREAMers, IPC recognized, are also found in virtually every state, and significant numbers are non-Mexicans who hail from all corners of the globe.


Hundreds of undocumented youth came out of the shadows this week

Poster NIYA "Coming out of the shadows week" 2012Undocumented youth coming out of the shadows this week have sacrificed in a very courageous, public and risky way to express out loud their situation and their feelings regarding their legal status.

In its second year, Coming out of the shadows week will hit several cities across the United States, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

According to the coordinators at the National Immigration Youth Alliance (NIYA), coming out can be anything from telling a friend about the undocumented status, to posting a note on Facebook to planning an all-out rally in their college or city.

NIYA created last year a Guide to Coming Out of the Shadows to help youth prepare for the day they decide to share their story.

“The idea of “Coming Out” started in Chicago a couple of years back. It was started because we wanted to rip down the lies that the media and politicians had created around who an undocumented person was. We also wanted to share our story from a first person perspective rather than having others tell our story, or try to explain to others what it meant to be undocumented. We want to highlight stories of different undocumented students, and let others know that we are human just like them. As youth, we needed to put a real human face on the Dream Act,” explains Dulce Guerrero, an organizer with DreamActivist Georgia.

Guerrero explains that she became involved when she got tired of waiting for things to change. “I grew tired of staying at home and watching the news about how many family members had been deported. After my mother was stopped for a minor traffic violation and I realized how close I was to losing her, I woke up! I realized that no one was going to do this for us, and if I wanted to see things change, I had to do something. Because I am undocumented this issue affects me and my family directly.”

Last year Dulce was arrested in an act of civil disobedience in Atlanta, along with several other undocumented young people. She has helped stop several deportations in Georgia by helping make their cases public.

“Being undocumented doesn’t define who you are. By Coming Out we take back our right of speech that for years others have been trying to control and oppress. Being undocumented is something that has given us strength and patience throughout the years. Nobody, not even the Senate, can stop us. We’re here and we’re not leaving, be proud and be loud!” says Angy, representing the New York State Youth Leadership Council.

Jaime, a 15 year old freshman who attends high school in North Carolina, came out for the first time by writing a poem. He performed it at a local open-mic poetry event, and then again at a vigil for Uriel, the undocumented youth who was being detained after participating in an act of civil disobedience.

The KUYA (Kentucky Undocumented Youth Alliance) has an event this Saturday titled “Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo”(Without Papers but fearless). The activity will take place at a church in Northern Kentucky and its coordinator, Heyra Avila, said that four students that would qualify for the DREAM Act, or DREAMers, will speak out for the first time in their lives about their experiences as undocumented youth. Avila explained that this is the first time an event such as this one will take place in that community and there is great expectation.

Press Conference and rally to stop the deportation of Jesus Cruz in Georgia

In Georgia, for Coming Out of the Shadows week a press conference was hosted for Jesus Cruz, a student currently in deportation proceedings for driving without a license. Cruz was in court this past Monday and instead of being deported he was given a continuance of 60 days until ICE decided what to do with his case.

Video: Jaime’s coming out through poetry

An act of rebellion in the face of fear
Across the USA, coordinators of the movement agree that when undocumented youth are able to connect, when they share their story, they feel empowered and are more likely to reach out.

“I think authorities are confused and scared when you walk down the street with an “I am Undocumented shirt”. The fear of exposing one’s immigration status is the power and leverage that authorities have been able to use against us. But when one takes that fear, turns it around exposes what we have been told not to, it’s an act of rebellion. The look on officer’s faces is always priceless,” says Dulce.

The Georgia activist believes that every action, be it stopping a deportation or participating in an act of civil disobedience, has a huge impact.

“I know people that have openly stated that they do not want undocumented immigrants here, but after the action here in Atlanta they have been more open about learning and asking questions about who we are. Thus far I do not regret anything that I have done, and I know that we can only escalate from here,” Guerrero says.

It’s been eleven years… will the DREAM Act ever pass?
If there’s a bill that could, that would be the DREAM Act. Its power does not stem from the politicians that have tried countless times to push it through, but from the clamor of people. A roar that in the past few years has increased in volume and strength thanks to the valor of hundreds and thousands of undocumented youth and organizations such as NIYA and DreamActivist that have made the passage of this bill their sole issue, igniting a movement that is only bound to grow and become louder.

Dulce Guerrero certainly thinks the DREAM Act will pass. “The Undocumented youth activists are putting it at the forefront by sharing their stories, coming out publicly, and escalating in their actions. So we are certain that we will be able to see the DREAM act pass!

According to the DREAM Act portal, over three million students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Most get the opportunity to test their dreams and live their American story. However, a group of approximately 65,000 youth do not get this opportunity; they are smeared with an inherited title, an “illegal immigrant.” These youth have lived in the United States for most of their lives and want nothing more than to be recognized for what they are, Americans.

To see all the events click here.  

Mitt Romney: no friend of immigrants

Mitt Romney

Even though the presidential candidate hopeful currently leading the charts, Mitt Romney, has said publicly he “supports” legal immigration and that he wants to “end illegal immigration so that legal immigration can be protected”, he has not given much detail of what that “support” would actually entail.

As a campaign promise on New Year’s Eve, Romney vowed that if elected President of the United States he would veto any type of Dream Act bill, fence the border and go after the employers that hire the undocumented “as much as the government currently goes after employers that don’t pay taxes…” (which may mean his administration will be relaxed in this area).

Romney, who is supported by anti-immigrant bully, Texas Senator Lamar Smith (R-TX), expressed he would give a “pass” to those who serve in the military but would never allow in-state tuition to youth who came to this country undocumented, even if they came as children and were brought by their parents.

Video: Romney speaks about immigration

A Pew Hispanic Center report (December, 2011) stated that nine-in-ten (91%) Latinos support the DREAM Act, legislation that would permit young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children to become legal residents if they go to college or serve in the military for two years.

The same report said that even though 59% Latinos disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling deportations of unauthorized immigrants, in a hypothetical match-up against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama wins 68% to 23% among Latino registered voters.

Romney’s latest declarations on the Dream Act and his association with the Lamar Smith’s of the world will ultimately hurt him and make the 2012 election an easy win for President Obama, who is clearly not a true BFF of immigrants. Pero… to us Latinos, ultimately, más vale malo conocido… que pésimo por conocer.

Republicans offer no choices when it comes to immigration, says Senator Menendez

Senator Menendez at the Latino Business Summit, 2011. Photo: Office of Sen. Menendez

I could hear the frustration in Senator Menendez’s voice when we spoke on the phone.

“Why should we vote for Barack Obama? Why should we give him another chance?” I asked.

“When the Latino community look at their choices for next year’s presidential election, and compare their choices side by side, they’ll see that there’s a difference between the two parties in critical ways they can relate to in an every day fashion,” was Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) answer.

In an interview with Contacto Latino, the Senator said that the electorate needs to compare and see who is been trying to create jobs and put people back to work. Who has been doing everything possible to get America moving and how the Republicans in Congress have stopped every single proposal coming from President Obama or Democrats in Congress.

Menendez also said the electorate needs to remember that it is the Democrats who have been promoting access to Pell Grants and student loans.

Regarding immigration, an important subject among Latinos and employers of a variety of industries, he said that there is no GOP presidential hopeful who will support Comprehensive Immigration reform. “Everything they propose is punitive in nature,” Senator Menendez said.

Not much will happen until after the election cycle is over
One thing Senator Menendez knows for sure is that Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills, like the one he and others presented this year; as well as the DREAM Act, also re-introduced this year with the senator’s support, cannot move without bipartisan support. “Even with all the 53 Democrat Senators supporting a bill, it takes 60 votes to overcome filibusters,” the Senator pointed out.

In regards to immigration, Senator Menendez does not see anything happening until after the 2012 elections. “The president cannot make the laws on his own, but has begun to use executive powers to offer relief, such as in the cases when the person facing deportation has no criminal records or has deep relationships with U.S. citizens,” he said.

Menendez and other representatives and senators are also asking the president to reconsider how the law currently approaches the issue of 5 and 10 year bar (no entry) so that people can adjust their immigration status without being forced to leave the U.S. for several years –this would be the case, for example, of someone who crossed or stayed illegally in the country and later marries an American citizen. If the individual wants to “fix” his situation, he will need to leave the country and will have the opportunity to take care of it only after 10 or 5 years and from his country of origin.

Democrats in Congress are also working on extending humanitarian parole to those who have a relationship with a citizen, have American born children, and have ties to the community.

The Morton Memo is out there and outlines deportation’s high and low prioritiesThe problem now is to get jurisdictions to follow the letter of this memo,” he explained regarding the number of complaints from activists and grassroots organizations who continue to share local cases illustrating ongoing deportation stories of immigrants without a criminal record, or who would be eligible under a DREAM Act criteria, and abusive police tactics.

The other issue the senator recognizes that will need to be tackled in a close future is that once relief is offered and the deportation case is closed, the individual is not offered a legal status for permanent residency or employment; and there’s no guarantee a new deportation case will not be opened in the future.

Is this a bad time to handle immigration?
Many Americans say this is not the time to deal with immigration reform. Senator Menendez says that it is because of the economy that it is a good time to do exactly that.

The senator from New Jersey explains that there are several sectors of the economy, on the high and low ends, that cannot find workers that would do the job: agriculture, poultry, hotel, seafood are some of the industries already expressing they cannot fill vacancies. There are also more than three million jobs available in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Menendez says that many of these jobs provide the foundation for higher paying employees who would benefit from keeping these industries open for business. He also explains that by keeping people from being exploited and working for lower wages, everybody would benefit. Add to that the taxes that fully registered employees would bring into the economy, and you have several reasons to be for comprehensive immigration reform, says Menendez.

“People have a choice. But I would be scared of candidates that do not believe in comprehensive immigration reform. Scared of people who believe there’s no role for the government in helping create jobs and be able to get a college education. These are critical values, and when you compare side by side you can see which party is a better choice,” says Senator Menendez.