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When the DREAM becomes personal

September 27, 2011

By Sister Rose Marie

Passage of the DREAM Act has become very personal for me. I have long been an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform first from a mostly intellectual justice viewpoint. Then living in Laredo, Texas, I saw the suffering and insecurity in the lives of the undocumented immigrants both at the hospital where I worked and at the domestic violence shelter there, Casa Misericordia.

But recently, I have had the opportunity to be more intimately involved with the DREAM students, young people who came to the United States as children with their undocumented parents and want to be contributing members of the country they call home. Congress has re-introduced the DREAM Act, which would create a path to legalization for these young people.

Shortly after I moved to North Carolina in August 2008 to begin my new ministry as the Director of Justice for the South Central Community, I was asked to be a part of the Diocesan Immigration Committee. There at one of the meetings, I met Angelica, who was brought to the United States at the age of 4. Angelica is a beautiful young woman who graduated with high honors from Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. She would like to be a nurse or a doctor but even if she could manage to be accepted into one of those programs, she could not be licensed to practice in the United States because of her undocumented status.

Angelica was living here, working in the shadows and hoping and praying for a solution. She is American in so many ways and believing in the American Dream. Some time back her brother Eric was arrested for driving without a license with his high beams on and taken to deportation hearings. Eric came here when he was 2 years old. The family decided to fight this with petitions and public prayer vigils. His case was finally given a deferred action status which means that he won’t be deported right now.

Angelica became involved with the North Carolina Dream Team and decided to participate in an act of civil disobedience. She and a number of students blocked an intersection in Charlotte and were arrested. I experienced a lot of fear for her and the other young men and women. Would they be mistreated in jail? Would she be summarily deported and end up lost on the border trying to make her way in a country whose culture and customs were unknown to her? (Deportees are not sent home; they are dropped off at the border of their home country. The village or city of their family might be hundreds of miles away. The deportees are often robbed or worse while traveling to “home”.) And from a personally selfish viewpoint, would she get out of jail in time to speak at the immigration conference of which I was a prime organizer?

Angelica did get out of jail. Her case was simply dropped as if nothing had happened. She came to the immigration conference and told her story. Other DREAM Students told their story. One young man, born in the USA, told the story of his father, undocumented, who worked hard for many years but who lost his job because of his status. The loss of his ability to support his family led to his death.

I think of Angelica frequently. How would I or any of us deal with the insecurity and fear that these young people face daily? How can I not be an advocate for the DREAM Act and for Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

The U.S. Bishops encouraged parishes to Pray for the DREAM this past weekend and to participate in public events through Oct. 9 that call for passage of the DREAM Act. You may find here a message urging your legislators to support the DREAM Act.   

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