On getting involved: In support of the DREAM Act

Sharing our stories is what makes the movement happen.--Matias Ramos

Thanks to a motivated graduate student, activists/educators Kent Wong and Matias Ramos came to our education building this morning and asked audience members to weigh in on--that is, to make a difference in--the passage of the DREAM Act. But Wong did not immediately dive into the problems confronting undocumented college students.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MqgOSWv75xc

Instead, he started with immigrant worker issues. After all, and as Wong noted later, undocumented students, even if they do manage to graduate from college, cannot work legally in the United States under current laws.

I appreciated Wong's unabashed language as he spoke of the "wage theft" and "unregulated work" experienced by many undocumented laborers in the United States. He asserted (and I paraphrase),

Unscrupulous employers can get away with basic violations of labor law, including offering no overtime pay, paying workers less than the minimum wage, and breaking public safety codes, because immigrant laborers do not have legal status. Not only do they have few avenues to pursue their rights, but they also fear being fired, deported, and/or raided by ICE in their workplaces, or worse, their own homes.

Enter an innovative UCLA class wherein students studied undocumented youth's experiences. As Wong noted in the book that resulted from this class, Underground Undergrads, the students, both documented and undocumented, "researched legal and legislative issues, conducted interviews, and collected photos, poems, and spoken-word pieces." The students' powerful and horrifying stories appear in this book as well as the short film, Lost & Found, available for free on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jI7J2b3t4WU

I have a hard time imagining how policymakers and lay people alike could support the deportation of these "extraordinary young people," as Wong rightfully calls them. Even our more conservative brethren would be daft or downright evil to blame these youth for arriving in this country through no decision of their own.

Oh wait! I forgot about Tom Tancredo, that oh-so-venerable representative from my home state. Wong recounted the story of Tancredo appealing for Tam Tran's immediate removal from the Capitol--as well as her arrest, and deportation--while she testified in support of the DREAM Act. Tran, who came to America at the age of six as a Vietnamese refugee, is currently pursuing her PhD in American Studies at Brown University. (She is also the creator of Lost & Found and a contributor to Underground Undergrads.) But no matter. According to Tancredo (via Migra Matters):

I call on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to detain any illegal aliens at this press conference. Just because these illegal aliens are being used for political gain doesnā€™t mean they get immunity from the law.

His words would be humorous if not said in earnest and if they did not reinforce a sentiment incessantly heard on the airwaves.

Wong observed that the voices of students who are immediately and negatively impacted by our current immigration policies have the power to drown out this "fierce anti-immigrant sentiment." He also emphasized that in times of economic recession, U.S. citizens and institutions have historically scapegoated poor workers of color. Nothing new there. What is new is Blingee.com. This website allows me to highlight one of the people whom I wish would get more airtime when discussing contributors to economic crises and subprime mortgage lending.

Larry Summers

Alas. Until that day comes, I will take solace in knowing that Ramos and other young activists have successfully organized a 26-state coalition called United We Dream. I will also become more involved.