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Dreaming With Dignity

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Posted on Oct 9, 2013
AP/Samantha Sais

A DREAMer wearing a graduation cap and gown to show his desire to finish school in the U.S. waits to be signaled through at the U.S. port of entry where he planned to request humanitarian parole.

By Sonali Kolhatkar

(Page 2)

As immigrants know full well, the current system is set up against legal immigration. Immigrants, particularly from Mexico, even once they get through the complicated forms and shell out hundreds of dollars, have to wait a decade or more in order to be approved, if at all. Out of 1.4 million applicants from Mexico in 2011, only 26,000 were admitted because of visa caps. Powell challenged Obama officials to find a just solution. “If we really believe in family unity, if this administration believes in keeping families together, we should have a pathway for people to come home,” he said.

To date, the Obama administration has deported a record 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. Even though he has expressed strong support for the DREAM Act, and announced a policy last summer for young people to defer deportation, President Obama refuses to use his executive power to freeze deportations. Current immigration legislation, although extremely weak and filled with highly problematic sections such as enhanced border militarization, has stagnated in Congress. 

According to Powell, the lives of undocumented immigrants “should not revolve around beltway politics and neither does our movement. We will continue to win victories for the immigrant community no matter what happens in D.C.”

Indeed Mateo, whose parents are undocumented and whose uncle was deported, participated in the DREAM 9 action for reasons both political and personal.

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“We all have very different stories,” she said. “In my case for example, I had the chance to visit my family in Oaxaca. I was 14 when I moved to California so I do have some memories of living in Oaxaca. I have a grandfather in Mexico. I’ve lost a lot of family members over the years—I was not able to say goodbye to them. This time I was actually able to hug my grandpa and spend a couple of days with him.”

If NIYA continues to successfully enable immigrants to legally return home using this innovative tactic, it could create enough political pressure to make meaningful change. By openly attempting to return to a place they consider home, immigrants are challenging the notion that their humanity depends on a piece of paper.

Immigration authorities are in a bind: They can impose the heavy-handed practice of detention and deportation on these young immigrants and risk stoking public outrage, or they can quietly let them return to their homes, thereby creating a precedent for more such actions. Strategically speaking, it is a brilliant move, on par with the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement that challenged Jim Crow segregation, or the Freedom Flotillas of the Free Gaza movement, which just a few years ago attempted to undermine the Israeli siege of Gaza.

Mateo explained, “We’ve hopefully set a precedent for other families, for other DREAMers to come home. No matter where you are, you should be able to be with your family. There is no way a family should be separated.” She added, “The U.S. is my home and this is the place where I feel safe and I can be myself.”

In the absence of legislative progress, DREAM activists like Lisbeth Mateo have taken matters into their own hands and charted a way to simultaneously challenge a broken system while creating a tenuous route home for people, even if it is just a few at a time.

Mateo is finally realizing her dream: Just days after she was released from Eloy Detention Center, she began her first semester at Santa Clara University School of Law in Northern California. Like other DREAMers, her home and her future is here and now.


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