Ernestina came to the United States from Mexico when she was 3 years old.
Her parents brought her here and they overstayed a visa and became undocumented immigrants.
Now she is 19 and has lived in Chicago all her life. She was the valedictorian of her high school class. She is a sophomore at a state university and aspires to become a graphic designer.
But her dream may never come true. Her only chance to become a legal resident is if Congress passes the DREAM Act.
Sponsored by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, this legislation would help legalize young immigrants who came here as children, have good moral character, and attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years.
"I feel more American still with Mexican roots," Ernestina told me in an interview.
She just wants a chance to live the American Dream.
There were rallies around the country Wednesday in support of the DREAM
Act, including a small one in Pilsen supported by Illinois Dreamers for
Educational Access made up of community organizations like Latinos Progresando and Erie Neighborhood House.
There may be as many as one million young people in the United States like Ernestina. You can also read more of their stories on Dream Activist. One such student, Jorge-Alonso Chehade, living in Washington State is scheduled to be deported back to Peru this week.
These youth did not decide to come here by themselves. They were brought here by their parents and now they are caught in a legal limbo.
They are culturally American. They have excelled in school. But what jobs can they find if they remain undocumented? What kind of life will they live if we send them back to countries they barely know?
A young woman I interviewed 10 years ago is still undocumented and now she is in her late 20s.
And still our laws haven't changed. I will keep writing about Dream Act youth until the law changes. Over the summer, I wrote about another young woman, Andrea. Her story is similar to Ernestina's.
These are intelligent, compassionate young people committed to their education. We should allow them to become equal members of our society.
We shouldn't blame these youth who can offer so much to our nation.