DREAMing of a better future

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The DREAMers — young immigrants, like Rosa Velasquez from United We Dream – have defined the immigration debate by sharing their stories with the American people and reminding us what’s at stake.

No nation that condemns young people to a life of limitation is living up to its most deeply held values. Our immigrant youth movement has exposed this moral contradiction in a powerful way.

But DREAMers are not just leading this fight for themselves; they are also fighting for their families and their communities. Condemning anyone to second-class status, barred from the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, violates the very core of our democracy.

When Rosa testified last month in front of the House Judiciary Committee, she reminded members of Congress why these eleven million dreams, too many on hold or in limbo, torn apart by senseless deportations or divided by fear, cannot wait any longer.

“My mother’s hardworking hands are the reason that today, I am currently a grad student at Henderson State University and Harding University in Arkansas,” Velasquez said. “When Members of Congress tell me that I deserve an opportunity to earn citizenship and my mother does not, I tell them that if anyone deserves that opportunity to earn citizenship, it is my mother, Rosalinda.”

Leaders in the civil rights movement are proud to join DREAMers, faith leaders, and the diverse coalition backing immigration reform as a basic issue of justice and fairness. In 1963, children marched in Birmingham, Alabama to speak out against the discrimination and segregation that defined the community they called home, only to be met with fire hoses and police dogs led by a brutal police chief.  Those images of fire hoses turned against schoolchildren is seared into America’s collective memory, a reminder of a time when racism ran rampant and was sanctioned by the institutions entrusted to govern our society.

In 2013, young people gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol to profess their commitment to this nation and the future they want to be a part of. Once again, young people are leading the fight for justice, and they will not leave their families or communities behind.  They will not turn a blind eye to the injustice that threatens their parents’ livelihoods and their families’ ability to live free from fear.

They will not ignore the pain in their communities, even as they pursue higher education and are seen as leaders in this country.  They live by this code because their parents’ sacrifice and courage made those degrees and accolades possible.  Their parents taught them the true meaning of family, democracy, and justice, just as the parents of those brave schoolchildren in Birmingham instilled in their children the belief that all children are created equal and deserve a chance to live out their dreams.

Immigration reform faces an uncertain fate in the House of Representatives, where too many politicians seem committed to delay, stall, or block progress. As partners standing shoulder-to-shoulder for immigration reform, United We Dream and the NAACP will continue pressuring the House of Representatives to deliver real immigration reform for DREAMers and their families. We will urge our elected officials to pursue thoughtful, compassionate legislation that rights some of our nation’s wrongs and gives hard-working immigrants, Americans in all but paper, the opportunities that they deserve and that our country needs.

As Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We are confident that our nation is bending towards justice on the matter of immigration reform.  Politicians who try to thwart progress and block the ability of millions of immigrants to ever access the cherished institution of citizenship will be doing America a great disservice – and they will have us to answer to.

Rosa Velazquez is a native of Mexico and came to the U.S. with her family at the age of five, living in Arkansas since. She represents the Mid-South Region on the National Coordinating Committee of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth network in the country. Sammie Dow is National Youth and College Director at the NAACP.