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The Next Step for Young Immigrants

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August 8, 2013

by Raquel Ortega, Choice USA Field Associate

A little over a year ago the Obama Administration announced the introduction of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children (among other criteria) the ability to live and work in the country legally for a renewable period of two years. This was one of, if not, the most important immigrants’ rights victory for the immigrant youth movement to date.

As a Chicana (Mexican-American), I’ve been awarded many privileges in life that I took for granted most of my life: I had the ability to get a drivers license when I turned 16; I was able to go to a public university, pay in-state tuition and qualify for financial aid; and I’ve been able to travel fairly easily inside and outside the country. These opportunities are not afforded to young immigrants brought to this country illegally.

Many young immigrants don’t even know they are undocumented until they try to pursue one of these opportunities for themselves and then must live in fear of deportation of themselves and/or their families. But what really makes me different from them? Many of us had the same background and culture maybe even similar aspirations and dreams.

This policy recognizes that these young people deserve an opportunity to be fully contributing members of the community. It’s also another example of how  the tide is turning, as states adopt policies that welcome, rather than marginalize, immigrant communities.

While the DACA program provides a temporary lifeline for many DREAMers who have been forced to lead hidden lives, in no way does it grant a path to citizenship for DREAMers which is why we need the DREAM Act. While the DREAM Act failed in the Senate in 2011, it’s since been introduced within the new comprehensive immigration reform policy and there’s a good chance it will pass. In 2010, I ran a campaign on campus to get Smith College to publicly sponsor the DREAM Act.

DACA is a good temporary solution, but the DREAM act is a crucial piece of legislation that would give young immigrants the ability to stop living in fear of being separated from their family and begin the process of becoming citizens. A few papers can make all the difference in someone’s life. As an ally to my undocumented brothers and sister, it is my duty to speak up and fight for the rights of those who are really no difference than me– until we get the respect and dignity we deserve.

This post is a part of the Latina Action Week of Action.

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