I refuse to refer to any immigrant as “illegal” or “alien,” especially one who was brought to the United States as a young child, much like I was hauled from southern Illinois to Chicago at the tender age of two. Had southern Illinois been southern Mexico, for example, that’s what I would be—an “illegal alien”—at least to the team of Tea Party Republicans that shot down the DREAM Act in December: its fifth death in the last decade. Instead, I am considered a model citizen, basically because my parents are white and I pay my taxes. Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t dare call myself a patriot or do a thing to defend our so-called “democracy,” unlike my “law-breaking” friends, who may not be documented but are still willing to work, fight, and even die for this country—all for nothing if the DREAM Act dies again.
Fortunately, despite an aggressive opposition campaign and a heartbreaking rejection in December, it looks like lawmakers around the country are still DREAMing big. Majority Leader Harry Reid, along with Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, resurrected the Act in Congress last month with a new bill that would finally put my friends—thousands of undocumented young people—on the path to legal residency.
Despite what you may be hearing from enraged Republicans, the DREAM Act—officially the Development Relief and Education Act for Alien Minors—is not a “free lunch” or a “reward” for bad behavior. To qualify for its benefits, you must have been under age 16 when you came to the United States, show “good moral character,” have graduated from high school, and accrued 2+ years in college or the Armed Forces. After that, you’re not ushered to citizenship on a red carpet. You’re simply eligible for permanent residency, making you a legal taxpayer, which should be great news for fiscal fanatics, right? Wrong. Apparently the $1.4 trillion in taxable revenue that DREAM Act beneficiaries would be contributing over the next 40 years is chump change to the naysaying conservatives responsible for killing the Act this winter.
But dedicated DREAM activists hope that December marked the last time they face the nightmare of rejection, praying that the recent passages of mini-DREAMs in states like Illinois and Connecticut are an indication of changing public opinion. Yet, those of us who have been here before know we must be wide awake to make this DREAM come true and we must be willing to call out leaders who are sleeping on the job. Referring to December’s vote as his “biggest disappointment,” President Obama has pledged his support of the Act as part of a greater campaign for widespread immigration reform but millions of disappointed DREAMers aren’t quite ready to rally with him. In April, 22 Senate Democrats asked the President to put his executive authority where his mouth is and stop the deportation of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries—a plea that people like me still hope he will heed. (As of today, Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than Bush. Where do you really stand, Mr. President?)
Today this (not so) model citizen stands before you to say that there are many candidates far worthier than me for the job—825,000 to be exact. Take action now. Write to your elected official and tell them to make our DREAM come true.
About the Author: Rachael Kay Albers is a freelance writer, English teacher, and theater facilitator working to educate and empower indigenous women in Central America. In her spare time, she loves to maintain and improve her bilingualism by reading novels and watching movies in Spanish.