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Dan Lawlor: The DREAM Act is a No-Brainer

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Have you heard of Daniela Peleaz? She is a senior in high school, class valedictorian, and, until a few days ago, was about to be deported.

Statistics abound with depressing numbers on student success in public schools. Daniela is not one of those statistics.

Daniela is in the International Baccalaureate program at her high school, an Advanced Placement student, and is her class valedictorian at North Miami Beach High School in Florida. Hundreds of her peers organized a march in her support when she was issued a deportation order a short time ago. The Superintendent spoke out on her behalf.

Palaez was interviewed by the Huffington Post, saying, “It’s mind-boggling. It’s scary. Last week I was worried about turning in my mid-year reports for college and the next homework essay assignment, and now all of this is happening.”

Republican Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen was a key player in stopping the deportation order. The congresswoman wrote to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), noting, “Daniela and her siblings entered the US with their parents in 1991, when she was just 4 years old. Their parents divorced, and in 2006 their mother had to return to Colombia due to medical reasons. Daniela and her sister have been living with their father, a US resident. Their brother is currently serving in the US military forces.”

Ros-Lehtinen herself immigrated to the US at the age of eight, as she and her family fled Communist Cuba. On her web bio, she writes, "We settled in Miami and put down permanent roots in our community." A practising Episcopalian, in Congress Ros-Lehtinen has been active in International Affairs and Human Rights advocacy, vision care, and establishing marine life habitats and sanctuaries. She's no push-over, and advocates for legislative reform of our immigration policies.

In particular, Ros-Lehtinen supports the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act. The Act is an initiative to provide pathways to citizenship for young people enrolled in college or the military, who, while without proper paperwork, through no fault of their own, have been raised and educated in the US.

I once heard a layperson at church speak about the ABCD idea- Asset Based Community Development. Instead of focusing on what is lacking, can we see the good that is present? Can the spark of goodness be a point for growth? This nation will be stronger with more talents, more voices, more passion, more concern. Instead of removing neighbors and classmates from our community, let's create better pathways for all youth to succeed. Deporting aspiring academics, military officers, store owners, artists, writers, nurses and doctors is not how a nation lives up to its best traditions. We should support and build on the good gifts and talents of people in our communities, not coldly cut people short before their talents are allowed to grow.

In a moving essay, a Harvard graduate of undocumented status reflected on the journey from public elementary school to the Ivy League. Now, post-graduation, the alum writes of the fear that, "At any given moment, a white van with the words Immigration Customs Enforcement inscribed on its side can come and take me away from my family, from my friends, from the people who swore on the life of the American Dream that I would realize all my dreams." This person did everything that could be expected academically - learn English, study hard, excel in honors classes, push for more work, gain admittance to a quality college --- and now what? Despite this education, what jobs, legally, are open in this country?

I know this an emotional issue. Many commentary pages across this nation have touched on the issue. Yet, too many people are being hurt, too many families are being torn apart, too many children are being left angry and frustrated for us to continue on the current path. The system is broken. It has become popular for some of our plutocrat politicians to speak of concern for "our grandchildren." If the concern is for "our grandchildren," we'd better stop holding back young people.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen writes: "Congress needs to pass the Dream Act so that many young people can form part of our armed forces or attend college and contribute to our generous and great nation. There are many such desperate cases in our community, and instead of causing such anxiety we can allow these teenagers to realize their dreams in a legal manner."

Republican or Democrat, it's time to pass the Dream Act.

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