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New York Times: Students in Legal Limbo After Immigration Fight

by Jacquelyn Mahendra on 02/08/2011 at 5:19pm

In addition to the Washington Post’s piece on DREAM eligible youth in JROTC today, the New York Times‘ Julia Preston took a long look at where students who fought for the DREAM Act are now, and the challenges they face:

It was exhilarating for Maricela Aguilar to stand on the steps of the federal courthouse here one day last summer and reveal for the first time in public that she is an illegal immigrant.

“It’s all about losing that shame of who you are,” Ms. Aguilar, a college student who was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States without legal documents since she was three years old, said of her “coming out” at a rally in June.

Those were heady times for thousands of immigrant students who declared their illegal status during a nationwide campaign for a bill in Congress that would have put them on a path to legal residence. In December that bill, known as the Dream Act, passed the House of Representatives, then failed in the Senate.

President Obama insisted in the State of the Union address and in later interviews that he wants to try again on the bill this year. But with Republicans who vehemently oppose the legislation holding crucial committee positions in the new House, even optimists like Ms. Aguilar believe its chances are poor to none in the next two years.

That leaves students like her who might have benefited from the bill — an estimated 1.2 million nationwide — in a legal twilight.

Julia Preston goes on to discuss the political chances of providing relief for youth who need the DREAM Act in order to fully give back to the country they call home. She also discusses the Administration’s aggressive approach to immigration enforcement in the absence of federal reform and Republicans’ attempts to block any legislation that would allow these young people to normalize their status:

The president says he supports their cause, and immigration officials say illegal immigrant students with no criminal record are not among their priorities for deportation. But federal immigration authorities removed a record number of immigrants from the country last year, nearly 393,000, while the local police are rapidly expanding their role in immigration enforcement. Students often get caught.

Illegal immigrants also face new restrictions many states are imposing on their access to public education, driver’s licenses and jobs. And for those like Ms. Aguilar who came out last year to proclaim their illegal status, there is no going back to the shadows.

Republicans who will lead their party in the House on immigration issues say illegal immigrant students should not be spared from deportation. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led the opposition to the Dream Act in December, calling it “an American nightmare” that would allow illegal immigrants to displace American students from public colleges.

The picture isn’t pretty for many DREAM youth, who have been left to fight against the deportation of their friends and family members — including orphans and future marines.

Still, these young leaders are growing more organized than ever, after their historic push to pass the DREAM Act out of the U.S. House of Representatives and win a majority of votes (55) in the U.S. Senate. Two impressive new networks that have launched or relaunched this month include United We Dream and the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.

These young people will be leading a bold new charge to win rights for their communities and take back the narrative about their lives and the contributions they plan to make to this country — that they are already making to the country they call home.

Their power lies in their stories, their courage, and the realization that they have nothing to lose.

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