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Immigrant Youth Vow to Fight for Their Parents, Families, and Citizenship

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Cross-posted at “A MomsRising Blog Carnival on Protecting Family Unity, Strengthening Communities and Ensuring a Thriving Economy with the Contributions of Immigrants“:

After Republicans reached an historic low among Latino voters in last month’s election, political analysts of all stripes began to say that the GOP should change its immigration plank and work with Democrats to enact reasonable and humane reform in Congress. They said the Democrats want it, and the Republicans need it. This is a rare moment where a single change in the law could help both parties politically and move us forward as a country.

Immigration reform—specifically, what to do about the 11 million immigrants in our country who don’t have papers—was an issue in a number of Republican primary debates. Polls showed that the kinds of ideas supported by Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were more popular than Mitt Romney’s self-deportation gimmick. But Romney didn’t listen to the people—he listened to his advisors. And embracing the policies of extremists like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), SB 1070 architect Kris Kobach, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) cost Mitt the election.

You see, 60 percent of all Latino voters know someone who is undocumented, and 25 percent know someone who is facing deportation or has been deported. For Latino voters, immigration reform isn’t just policy, it’s personal.

Two weekends ago, United We Dream brought 600 DREAM leaders from all across the nation together in their DREAMer Congress, where they wrote a platform describing the kind of immigration reform they will pursue next year. The UWD Congress celebrated the game-changing victories DREAMers have won this year—like pushing President Obama to create his deferred action (DACA) program for DREAMers and helping to mobilize a record number of Latino voters to turn out in last month’s election. At the Congress, they shared their own powerful personal stories about how immigration and deportation have changed their lives and turned them into advocates for their communities and their families.

Miriam Jordan at the Wall Street Journal covered the conference:

In breakout sessions of six or seven, the young immigrants practiced telling their own stories in three minutes, often erupting in tears, and contemplated the road ahead: “Now that our movement has achieved something for me, I won’t ever live in peace if I don’t push for change to benefit my parents,” said Adrian Reyna of Texas…

On Sunday, a few parents in attendance brought the youngsters to tears and to their feet in applause. “We don’t care if we have to keep cleaning toilets if it means you’ll succeed,” said Juan Zorrilla, whose daughter, Lizeth, is a leader in Wisconsin.

Julia Preston at the New York Times also attended the Congress and captured the magic of what went on. It wasn’t just DREAMers telling their stories this weekend—their parents were, too:

On Sunday, six immigrant parents, also here illegally, joined a “coming out” ceremony where they spoke in public for the first time, as many youths have done in recent protests.

One father, Juan Jose Zorrilla, 45, who is from Mexico, recounted how he had entered the United States several times by swimming across the Rio Grande. “For parents, there is no sacrifice so large that we won’t make it for our children,” Mr. Zorrilla said. A mass of youths jumped up from their chairs to embrace Mr. Zorrilla and the other parents.

I attended the Congress that weekend and was inspired by many things I saw—but one thing really stood out. As proud as the DREAMers are of their hard-fought achievements (particularly DACA), they were even prouder of their families. When they talked about the sacrifices their parents had made so that they could have a better life, there wasn’t a dry eye on the stage or in the audience.

One young woman, still in high school, told me that she would like her mom to get her papers before she does—because her mom is the one who has gone through so much to be here.

Having been through the immigration battles of 2006 and 2007, I can say without a doubt that this time feels different. This time, the moral imperative and the political imperative are undeniable. But the most important difference is that the very immigrants who are impacted by these policies are speaking out, driving the debate, and forcing lawmakers to see beyond the border.

At its heart, the immigration reform debate isn’t about a fence, it is about family. The upcoming immigration fight will be fought by strong individuals and strong families who believe that this country is the greatest nation in the world, a country which can best live up to its promise by changing its immigration policy and creating a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million hardworking immigrants who are really already Americans.