May 8, 2010

As the temperature rises, we must turn up the heat for the DREAM Act

By Gregory Cendana, USSA President

Just one week ago on May 1, I decided to participate in a civil disobedience on International Worker’s Day. In line with the celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement, it was a day to uplift the continuous struggle of immigrants, especially youth, in the United States. Joining other youth and immigration advocates, 35 of us risked arrest by sitting in front of the White House with letters that spelled the phrase: “Obama, Stop Deporting our Families.” There was a need to send a strong message: Lawmakers hungry for our votes must take swift action now because it in the right thing to do!

This decision was also very personal. As someone who comes from an immigrant and union family, risking arrest is very personal and comes from the foundation my family has built for me. My parents immigrated here decades ago in search of greener pastures and to live the American life that was only dreamt about in the Philippines. They are some of the hardest working people I know but still struggle to pay their mortgage, keep food on the table and support my sister who is a full time student at Sacramento State University. Not to mention, helping pay off my more than $40,000 in loan and credit card debt after graduating from UCLA.

I was also inspired to take action by some close friends who happen to be undocumented youth, a group who usually gets left out of the debate. It reminds of a documentary I saw, where someone who gave their testimonial described the yellow signs you find close to the California & Mexico borders where a younger person is being brought along with their family. What about them?

While attending UCLA, I got to know some of the best and brightest students who are the current and future leaders of our country. I have been humbled by their tenacity and courage to keep fighting despite years of inaction from Congress and the White House to provide them with a pathway to citizenship through higher education or to prevent separation from their families. Matias Ramos & Fabiola are two of these people who I love dearly and who continue to inspire me each and every day.

My participation in this civil disobedience was also a realization that as a US citizen and someone who has the privilege of not thinking about if the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) is going to raid my house, that I have a responsibility as an ally to help spread the word about the struggle of undocumented youth and the importance of the passage of the Federal DREAM Act. Many, like Matias & Fabiola, were brought here when they were young and know the United States as their home. In fact, they have become prominent leaders in their communities and continue to be inspiration to thousands across the country.

Enough is enough and action is necessary now. Part of my decision to participate in the civil disobedience also comes at the cusp of the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070. This legislation shows that the country is in need of practical solutions. The good news is that after almost a decade of organizing and advocacy on the DREAM Act, we are the closest we have ever been. We cannot stop now. Arizona families and frankly, all of us across the country, should be ashamed and hope this type of legislation does not pass elsewhere.

As a recent graduate myself, I know that we must be students first. School is starting to get out for some and some are currently in the midst of finals as we speak. As students continue to be studying or hard at work trying to pay off their tuition, President Obama and Congress have yet to take action on the Federal DREAM Act.

Each day, many undocumented students are barred access to education and are left in limbo with no options to better their lives. As we get closer to the 2010 election day, our timeline for seeing passage of such critical legislation is shortening. By participating in the action on May 1, we took critical steps forward to escalate our campaign. How hungry are you for the passage the DREAM Act? What are you willing to put on the line? I ask that you join me as we turn up the heat for the DREAM Act!

We understand that standard DC beltway thinking is to not tackle “real issues” during an election year. But the Surge voter is different. Youth voters need to be inspired and motivated by real action on our issues—policy victories that demonstrate the impact of voting. Let me be clear and say that the passage of the Student Aid & Fiscal Responsibility was a huge victory, but simply not enough.

Young “surge” voters were a huge factor in both 2006 and 2008 elections. Research shows that first time voters’ next election determines lifetime engagement: Vote in consecutive elections, and that voter becomes a lifetime voter. With millions of surge voters, 2010 will determine the health of our democracy for a generation.

It is critical that we move forward as a nation and recognize the positive social and economic impacts of an educated workforce and legislate accordingly. Pass the DREAM Act Now! A dream deferred, is a dream denied.

"Students around the world have been at the forefront of movements to promote democracy and human rights. Student movements have toppled powerful dictatorships and military juntas. Student movements have ended wars. And student activism has often served as the conscience for nations, reminding people in times of turmoil of the founding ideals of their countries and the aspirations of all people for justice, dignity, and equality."

-Glenn Omatsu

If we don't act, then who will?