The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Thursday, August 18, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I remember sitting in my guidance counselor’s office for my senior conference, nervously fidgeting as I waited for her to return from making copies of my high school transcripts. She returned with the copies, speaking quickly about this university and that deadline, telling me, “Oh, this scholarship would be perfect for you,” and finally, “Now for your financial aid form.” I froze, realizing the answers to financial aid questions would determine the direction and pace of my future. After much fumbling and talking in circles, I managed to articulate, “I am undocumented” aloud for the first time in my life. An awkward pause ensued, and I felt my entire face go hot as I anxiously waited for her reaction.
“Well, you’re illegal and there’s no options for you here,” she told me.
I let the words wash over me, and watched sadly as she closed the manila folder with my name on it and shoved it in the filing cabinet. I wanted nothing more than to leave her office, but it seemed to be forever until I could bring myself to move.
My story, sadly, is all-too-common in the United States. That’s why I am asking faith communities across the country to join me this fall in taking part in the DREAM Sabbath campaign. Together, we are advocating for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young adults brought to the United States as children who complete two years of college or military service.
I came to the United States when I was 6 months old from Costa Rica. My family was escaping economic hardship. A year after my father had made his way here, my mother followed, bringing my brother, sister, and myself. I led a very rich childhood in Lakeland, Florida, living with two parents who loved me and never hesitated to say so, and with two older siblings who protected me. I attended elementary, middle, and high school here, working hard in school so that all my parents’ sacrifices would be repaid generously when I would have a career, and be the first to get a college degree. I graduated from Lois Cowles Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, and was accepted into every university in Florida. I was even accepted into Florida State’s voice performance program with the dream of becoming a music teacher in low-income communities of color. Unfortunately, not being eligible for financial aid and not being able to legally work or drive in the only country I knew, I had to put these dreams on halt.
In 2009, when I first learned about the DREAM Act, it was like a beacon of hope for me, leading my way out of the shadows of the oppression I was living in to become a leader and champion for my community. It wasn’t just about young people like me trying to pass legislation, but about a national movement to try to save future potential in this country: stopping the separation of families, getting young people out of detention, and stopping the lucrative industry of prison corporations that kept lobbying congress to pass harsh and punitive immigration laws with no other aim but to fill up detention centers for profit.
As Unitarian Universalists around the country unite to stand up for justice, I urge you to join in solidarity with the DREAM Sabbath campaign taking place this fall. Get involved and you can help:
–Raise awareness in your congregation about the injustices against immigrant students and their families
–Open a safe space for community members to express the abuses they are facing so that they may be documented.
–Pressure your legislators to no longer be manipulated by business interests that just want more jails and detention centers.
In 2009, the legislation passed the House of Representatives and had majority support in the Senate, falling just a few votes short of ending a filibuster.
Together, we can defend our community and stand up for the people that have worked so hard to build it. Together, we can ensure that the dreams of young people like me, all across this country, can become a reality.