Immigrants rally for a path to citizenship
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 15:07
Jesus Gomez, 18, plays soccer when he’s not working as a bus boy at a local restaurant.
He’s as normal as any other teen walking San Antonio’s streets, but Gomez is one of an estimated 400,000 young people in Texas living on borrowed time in the shadows of a society that refuses to embrace them as citizens.
He’s undocumented and the clock is ticking on his future. Stories like his are becoming more and more common.The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, however, would pave a way for youth such as Gomez to become citizens of the United States.
It has been stalled in Congress for more than a decade, prompting President Barack Obama last week to issue an executive order that effectively buys more time for Gomez and others until legislators agree on a permanent solution.
“I think it’s disheartening, the (proposed) DREAM Act has been around for years and some of the immigrants don’t qualify for what it offers anymore since it’s a decade old,” said Mariano Aguilar Jr., faculty adviser for Students United for the DREAM Act at San Antonio College.
“If we pass it, there would be thousands of people who wouldn’t qualify; people who want to be good students and contribute to society, but people who don’t want to be a part of society get to be a part of society.”
Eleven years ago, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced the DREAM Act, which would allow immigrants brought into this country illegally before the age of 16 to receive legal status and eventual citizenship upon completion of military service or college. It was voted down in 2010.
But Obama’s recent action, which could be rescinded if he loses re-election this year, halts deportation of young illegal immigrants who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act’s provisions and allows them to apply for work permits.
These young people will be protected from deportation for two years, with the possibility of renewal.
Although DREAMers welcomed the order, it does not provide a path to citizenship, the most desirable outcome.
An estimated 2.1 million young people nationwide would benefit from passage of the bill, and activists are pledging to fight until the legislation is enacted.
In November 2010, when the bill was coming to the Senate floor, DREAMers gathered in front of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office for more than nine hours in the midst of a 20-plus-day hunger strike, refusing to budge and singing, “We shall not be moved.”
Hutchison, a Republican and senior senator from Texas, supported the core of the bill in 2007 but later changed positions claiming the bill is “too broad.”
One of the bill’s chief proponents is San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who also serves as one of 30 co-chairs of Obama’s reelection campaign.
“I am an on-record supporter of the DREAM Act,” Castro said. “I am convinced this is a good piece of legislation that supports America’s basic values and innocent people who know the U.S. as their only home.”
Castro’s immigration activism seems to be in his blood. His mother, Rosie Castro, was an advocate and political activist for the Chicana movement.
He said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s modified version of the DREAM Act that would not provide a path to citizenship “falls short” and is based only in politics.
“I believe that it makes sense for Latinos to be supportive of the president because you have to look at the entirety of the issues,” Castro said. “You have to look at probably the most important issue, which is investment in education.”
With the DREAM Act as a hot-button issue, student organizations such as SUDA are becoming increasingly involved. For the students who participate, the issue hits close to home.
“It affects them through not only school, but through their personal life,” SUDA’s Kimberly Rendon said. “It not only stops them from being able to drive, but they have to be cautious. They can’t live a wild life.”
SUDA President Laura Cortes also knows the feeling firsthand. At the age of 7, she came to the U.S. for a family vacation; but with her father working at the San Antonio International Airport, the family decided to move. Now, at 20, she’s studying liberal arts at SAC.
“As an undocumented American, I always face troubles. I can’t go to college, I can’t get a job, I can’t drive,” Cortes said. “Aside from that, all the emotional stress that comes with it. At first, you blame your family, imagine reliving your teenage years, but only you don’t exist in this country.”
She says she’s only fighting for what she believes to be right.
“I became so involved with the DREAM Act because I believe in fighting for equal rights. I deserve to be treated like a human being,” she said. “This is just another chapter waiting to be written down in history.”
For Gomez, the DREAM Act would not only open doors for his future, but for the futures of his brothers as well.
“I know my little brother likes school,” Gomez said. “He’s smart, and he wants to be someone in life. They aren’t going to stop him.”