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June 14, 2012

By Lorella Praeli, United We Dream

There are 2.1 million of us.

Then, there are our parents, friends, and neighbors—courageous, hardworking undocumented Americans. Together, we are 11.2 million. We’ve met and overcome great hardship. We’ve also had access to opportunity. Many of us are college graduates. There is a proliferation of descriptors that aim to define who we are, and to create a narrative of citizenship and alienage, belonging and outsider. But, people forget that before pointing to our successes, mistakes or failures, or choosing among the many appellations, we are human.

It is with admiration, respect, and sadness that I write today. I reflect on how far we’ve come as a young movement of DREAMers and allies, and smile at our progress and transgressions—our “coming out” events, our resilience and ability to succeed amidst a restrictionist agenda. Over the past two years, I have had the great privilege to work alongside bold, indomitable individuals. The hard reality, however, is that many lives remain unchanged. Youth continue to live in fear of deportation, and are further pushed into the shadows under President Obama’s “Secure” Communities program, the passage of anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona, Alabama, Utah, and in 28 other states last year. The effort to marginalize us continues in the quotidian rhetoric employed to describe us, undocumented Americans.

I write with sadness because our dreams are too valuable and too important to be so readily dismissed, and yet, dismissed they are in political arenas across the country. I’m sad to know that my sister, an 18 year old high school senior who graduates this month, won’t be celebrating and feeling what every 18 year old graduate who is excited about their future gets to feel. I want Maria to stop saying, “I’ve grown up surrounded by teachers who always told me I could do anything and be anyone; but, mentally, this idea was quickly shattered when I learned about my status.” Her dreams are too important and too valuable to be thrown away. She is an 18 year old who has known America since she was five and has succeeded against all odds. She should be hopeful for her future because she is young, full of dreams, and because America is her home.

In its landmark 1982 decision, Plyler v Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that effectively barred children from public elementary and secondary schools if they were in the United States unlawfully. This June, we commemorate this decision, and call upon our lawmakers and President Obama to deliver. Congress’ failure to pass the DREAM Act in 2010 has left potential beneficiaries vulnerable to removal and confined them to a life in the shadows. Let there be no confusion—we will continue to advocate for relief for our community until a permanent solution is reached in Congress. In the meantime, however, we join John Wilhelm, President of UNITE HERE, and call on President Obama “to use its substantial and undisputed discretionary authority to grant [undocumented immigrant youth and young adults] temporary administrative relief, and provide [us] with a small measure of security that [we] will be able to remain in the place we call home.

Our society’s failure to embrace difference and inspire youth—be it through the law, language, or the media—has real life consequences. The challenges that an undocumented youth feels as he watches his peers go off to college, will directly determine the kind of society in which we live. When a child feels less than, unworthy, and ashamed of who he or she is, society falters and betrays one of its own. It is my goal to work tirelessly until all receive justice under the law and to fight unceasingly when those laws are unjust, a pursuit that is much larger than anything I can accomplish individually, but is entirely possible if we work together.

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