In his “Not Legal Not Leaving” article, author Jose Antonio Vargas writes about how many undocumented individuals feel American. Like Vargas — an undocumented immigrant himself — these individuals may live an ostensibly American life. Yet these individuals all face the constant threat of deportation and other realities of a life lived with a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.
Today’s news that President Barack Obama intends to issue an executive order that will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to young undocumented immigrants who arrived as children is welcome. But it’s only a temporary measure. Immigrant children and their families need a permanent solution — and the DREAM Act, if passed, offers hope.
Erika Andiola, one of the young Americans featured in TIME magazine, is a DREAMer – an activist working tirelessly in support of the DREAM Act. This legislation would provide an opportunity to gain legal status for undocumented students who entered the country before the age of 15, graduate from high school, and complete at least two years of college or military service. Erika is (among other things) a board member of United We Dream and a co-founder of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. I was honored to work with her at Amnesty International USA’s national human rights conference in Denver earlier this year on a youth activist training and panel on immigrants’ rights. I talked to her yesterday about the TIME article. She said, “We are coming out of the shadows, because in our hearts we are American. I’m really pleased people will see what we are like – who we are. We are Americans.”
She continued, “Folks sometimes have an idea of us as smugglers and drug dealers, but in reality, most undocumented migrants won’t even drive, or do anything that might draw attention to themselves, as they do not want to be deported.”
One hopes TIME’s cover story, which follows last week’s TIME article by Fareed Zakaria, “Broken and Obsolete,” will add to the litany of voices raising the issue of a broken and dysfunctional immigration system and lead to the changes that are urgently needed. Erika hopes for “at minimum, a presidential Executive Order allowing DREAM-eligible undocumented migrants to stay in the country so we can work and contribute, followed by the passing of the DREAM Act,” en route to broader immigration reform in the longer term.
Amnesty International is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to advance immigrants’ rights. On Tuesday, President Obama told an audience in Baltimore, Maryland, “It’s time to stop denying citizenship to responsible young people just because they are children of undocumented immigrants.” We agree with this sentiment, but remain disappointed by the lack of progress on issues critical to migrant communities, including passing the DREAM Act, improving border security oversight and prohibiting profiling on the grounds of national origin and religion. We urge the President to do all he can to secure the human rights of migrants here at home.
Erika’s words about why this dialogue and the passing of the DREAM Act are so important speak volumes both on the substance of the issue and about exactly who these young would-be citizens are. She said, “The country can be on the right side of history or not, but this is not about what the country can do for us. Ultimately, it is about what we can do for the country.”
To support the DREAM Act, here’s what you can do:
- Take action! Send a message to your senators and representative calling on them to support the DREAM Act in Congress, including co-sponsoring the Act if they haven’t already done so.
- Take the message to your members of Congress in person! Nothing moves elected officials more effectively than their constituents taking the time to raise their issues face-to-face. During our upcoming lobby week, July 1-8, Amnesty members across the country will be visiting their senators and representatives to urge them to support the DREAM Act. Lead or join a delegation today!
- Learn more about the issue! Amnesty is supporting the DREAM Act because it advances the human rights of undocumented immigrants, including the right to education and the right to family unity. Download our DREAM Act one-pager (PDF) for more.