Dream Act Rising 

Immigrant youth find their voice in movement for the American Dream

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In his desire to see the Dream Act pass, one of these students, Aaron, wanted Boise Weekly to use his full name and identify his hometown and high school. Boise Weekly declined to name him because he is a minor and could be put at risk for deportation, but this is his story in his own words:

Inside I want to say I am American. But in reality, I’m not American because of my legal status in the United States. I came here when I was in second grade. I was 7 years old. Now I’m in 11th grade and will graduate in 2012.

When my parents brought me to this country I had no idea we were doing something wrong. I was told that we were finally going to visit my dad, to live with him. Of course, after two years without seeing him, I was very eager to visit. I had no idea what the right/wrong way was. The journey was not like you see it in the movies. We got very lucky that good people crossed us over. All I remember was walking in the desert holding my mom’s arm, my mom carrying my sister in the other arm, and walking in a line of about 15 people. I don’t quite remember how much we walked; the walk wasn’t too bad though. Once in a while people would start freaking out and we ran a few times. Eventually, someone came to pick us up and take us to Idaho.

There are people out there who think people like me are criminals. Is being raised here in Idaho, never getting to know my own mother country a crime? Over the years, I came to love America as my own nation. Pretty soon, without even noticing, I fully assimilated. I learned the language fluently. I followed the rules and laws. I did everything a good American kid does. I rode my bike around, played video games and hung out with friends. If I were to be deported I’d have to start from scratch, having missed a childhood in Mexico. I don’t think I would be able to do it. Deportation would have huge consequences for me, for my friends and family, and for my dream of pursuing higher education.

In 2001, California passed a law that gave undocumented students like Matias Ramos the opportunity to attend state colleges and pay in-state tuition. Congress technically barred in-state tuition for undocumented students in 1996, but California and 10 other states (Oklahoma has since rescinded its law) found a way around the ban by liberalizing residency requirements for all students, a move that the California Supreme Court upheld earlier this month.

In addition to its other provisions, the Dream Act would have lifted the federal ban on offering in-state tuition to undocumented students, allowing states to make their own policies regarding residency and higher education. But the new version of the bill, according to unconfirmed reports at dreamactivist.org, removes this provision.

As more undocumented students in California entered university in the early 2000s, they gradually found one another.

“Against the odds, students were able to get into places like UCLA and they started meeting each other there … at first it was a really big deal for six or seven undocumented students to be in the same room together,” said Flavia de la Fuente, a U.S. citizen, UCLA graduate and volunteer editor of dreamactivist.org, a national network of groups advocating for the Dream Act.

Ramos said these meetings were at first more like support groups for undocumented students, who discussed how to fill out paperwork and scholarship options, but the meetings soon evolved into advocacy, and Ramos began to study political organizing.

“Since our lives are on hold basically until Congress takes real action on immigration, then why not be outspoken,” Ramos said.

Ramos became more public about his status around 2007, when a friend’s deportation was publicized. He appeared on panel discussions and spoke to the media as a student who would benefit from the Dream Act. Then he went on CNN.

“You start testing the waters and going up to bigger media markets,” he said.

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