Our VoiceImmigrationNews & Politics

An Open Letter: Together we can make the DREAM happen for everyone


Guest Blogger • Dec 07, 2010

Dear Friends:

For the past two years I have lived in Washington, DC, as a full-time undegrad at the George Washington University (“GWU”).  I recently declared Organization Sciences as my intended major, as I am hopeful that its interdisciplinary approach to education will allow me to further my ongoing efforts to build strong and effective leaders in our community who will help to institutionalize the change that we are all working towards.

Still, I miss my home community in LA and know that I am needed there.  But when living with the constant memory of an imprisoned generation as well as with the day-to-day awareness of so many students across America who aren’t privileged enough to attend a school like GWU, it is hard to forget why I am here.

Like the people who find no other alternative but to flee their homes in pursuit of the “American Dream” - leaving behind parents, partners and people they will always remember but probably never see again - I did not choose to follow this dream.

No, it called me during one of the quietest nights I spent alone in a cell at age 16.  And 12 years and three days after I was found guilty of murder and attempted murder, I am still following its path here in the Nation’s Capital, where later today I will join a crowd of immigrant students who have followed their dreams all the way to Capitol Hill.

Yes, as Congress continues where they left off last week and yesterday, taking up a vote on whether we will allow the American Dream to flourish in freedom or fall to fear, these brave young people will be here to deliver a six-foot check to each member of Congress in the $2.3 billion amount estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be generated in new revenues if we give these youth an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

This latest effort to get the DREAM Act passed is part of a National Day of Action organized by immigrant youth, communities of faith and students from across the country.  While some of them possess the legal “papers” required to build a future here, others are armed only with the same spirit that inspired the architects of the American Dream to defend “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” in our Declaration of Independence.

As someone who never had to worry about possibly getting deported - but did have to worry about possibly dying in prison - I have already witnessed how the American Dream can quickly become a human nightmare.  It was a nightmare that imprisoned not just me, but my mother and father, family and close friends, in a social cage similar to the ones many people find themselves in today – with or without legal status.  Thus, while it is unjust that only 50 percent of students graduate from American high schools every year, it is a crime to deprive 65,000 undocumented high school students who graduate each year of opportunities that they have earned.

Perhaps I might not fully understand what it means to be free had I never been robbed of my freedom.  Not knowing the value of freedom, perhaps I, too, might feel stagnated by the everyday struggle to survive out here.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that as citizens of this country we are afforded a right – one I consider a responsibility - to stand up for people who seek the same simple pleasures and privileges that we often forget to enjoy.

The only difference between me and the DREAMers who are here to deliver Congress a check, and the whole country a message, is that their parents held them in their arms, or by the hand, when their families migrated here.  My mother, who was 18-years-old and pregnant with my eldest brother, Carlos, simply looked the inspecting border official in the eye and declared, “I’m an American citizen,” as she walked across the Juarez/El Paso border holding my father’s undocumented hand.

If passed, the DREAM Act would grant temporary legal status to undocumented young adults in good standing who grew up in the United States. The legislation would enable many of these young adults to pursue higher education, encourage hopefully not too many to serve in the military, and create a new pathway to citizenship built on the hardworking ideals that they’ve already exhibited.

To qualify for citizenship, students would have to graduate from a two-year college, have studied at least two years toward a bachelor’s degree, or served in the U.S. military for at least two years.  And a recent amendment to the DREAM Act unfortunately lowered the age cap down from 35 to 29-years-old.

Although they have grown up in the United States and consider themselves a part of this country, undocumented students and soldiers face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of detection by immigration authorities.  Our immigration law currently has no mechanism to consider the special equities and circumstances of such students.  The DREAM Act would eliminate this flaw.

By enacting the DREAM Act, Congress would legally recognize that these young people belong here.  If Congress fails to act this week, another entire class of outstanding, law-abiding high school students will graduate without being able to plan for the future, and some will be removed from their homes to countries they barely know.  This tragedy will cause America to lose a vital asset: an educated class of promising immigrant students who have demonstrated a commitment to hard work and a strong desire to be contributing members of our society.

Take, for example, my friend and colleague, Luis A. Perez, who recently took a bold step in sharing his story with LA Times staff writer, Hector Tobar.  In spite of being the first undocumented student to graduate from UCLA’s School of Law, Luis, who is currently studying for the California bar exam, will not have the right to practice law – under the current policy.  You can read the article below, but before you do, understand that Luis is one of many remarkable young people who would benefit dearly if the DREAM Act is passed.
“Undocumented UCLA law grad is in a legal bind”

For example, newly elected Fresno State Student Body President, Pedro Ramirez, recently stepped down from his position as he announced that he, like thousands of other students, does not have legal status.  Pedro’s courage in “coming out” immediately drew a wave of media attention, enabling him to speak on behalf of other DREAMers, who believe that the sacrifices of their parents are just as noble as the immigrants we read about in American history books.  You can watch and listen to Pedro by following the link below. “Pedro Ramirez, Fresno State President, An Undocumented Immigrant”

But before you do, you may want to gain some true DREAMer inspiration by listening to a testimony given by UCLA student, David Cho, at the Campus Progress National Conference on July 7, 2010.  Apparently, David and his father drove all the way from California to Washington, D.C. so that he could deliver this speech.  I highly encourage you to watch it now: “David Cho at the Campus Progress National Conference”

Learn more by visiting dreamact.com.

Together we can make the DREAM happen for everyone.

Respectfully yours for the cause of Justice -

In solidarity,

-mario rocha

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, Mario Rocha discovered his voice as a writer in juvenile hall while participating in theatre and writing programs and struggling for justice. After being wrongfully imprisoned for ten and a half years, Mario finally regained his freedom at the age of 27. Mario currently attends The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and continues to  be an advocate for social change through the Sixth Sun, an independent multimedia and youth literacy project which he started in 2003 while in prison.
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