Tania Unzueta of Chicago risks arrest in sit-in at Arizona Sen. John McCain's office

A group of undocumented students, including Tania Unzueta from Chicago, are staging a sit-in Monday afternoon at Arizona Sen. John McCain's office in Tuscon.

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Tania Unzueta

They are challenging Congress to pass the DREAM Act which would create a pathway to legalization for undocumented youth who came here as minors and who complete two years of college or military service.

These youth are embarking on a national campaign at a time when immigration is a  hot topic with the recent passage of Arizona's controversial immigration law.

The four youth staging the sit-in risk arrest. If arrested, they could wind up in deportation proceedings.

Tania told me recently she would be embarking on a campaign of activism.

"This is the biggest thing that I have been scared of  my whole life and now that I'm saying it out loud - even though there may be consequences - it feels really good," Tania told me in a recent interview.

Tania, 26, like many young people who are undocumented, was brought to the United States by her parents. She was 6 when she arrived in Chicago. When she was 16, I first wrote about her when I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. I recently interviewed her again about her activism.

She told me that she quit her full-time job so that she could embark on a national activism campaign. She also is one of the founders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, which helped organize a group of youth to come out of the shadows and proclaim their undocumented status publicly this past March.

She recalled a conversation she had with her mom about going more public with her undocumented status.

Tania said that her mother told her, "You shouldn't be proud of being undocumented. Don't claim it as your own identity because it's not what makes you you."

But Tania disgreed. "The thing is... actually it is. Ever since we were little we've grown up knowing we are undocumented. It is part of our identity," she told me.

Now Tania and three other undocumented students, Lizbeth Mateo of Los Angeles, Mohammad Abdollahi  of Ann Arbor and Yahaira Carrillo of Kansas City are also part of the sit-in.

You can follow Tania on her Twitter feed about it. The next few hours may be tense as the students wait to see if they will be arrested.

They are taking this action on the anniversary of the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education.

Youth like Tania did not come here of their own free will. Many did not even learn they were undocumented until they graduated high school and their parents told them about their status. Among them are class valedictorians and community leaders. They are culturally American having come here as children.

But their futures are limited without equal access to a college education and careers. Many of these students still even find a way to graduate from college but their career options are few as they don't have a green card to work legally.

Congress is moving slowly to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. The  DREAM Act has been championed by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin. President Obama also has expressed his support for it.

Youth like Tania are willing to risk everything to tell them it's time to pass the DREAM Act. There may be as many as one million youth who could qualify for it.

It's time to let these students live the American Dream.

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  • My heart is with these brave young students!! Thank you so so so much!!! It means the world to immigrant students to have these great individuals stand for social justice.

  • I hope these students are successful in getting their message across. The Dream Act seems to be the logical solution in their case.

  • I'm so impressed with your courage today.

  • Tania and her fellow students are a tremendous inspiration. May their courage inspire our elected leaders to find their own courage and do the right thing: pass a humane immigration reform that offers a pathway out of the shadows, upholds our values of fairness and equality, and helps immigrants fully participate in and contribute to our communities!

  • These students are truly brave and I applaud their bravery. It is for these students that I am involved in immigration reform and their risks make me proud to have taken up the cause. My hat is off to all of them - Please keep up the hard work - your efforts are so needed and it is your courage that will bring the change we need.

  • We should keep in mind that these students are putting their futures and their very lives on the line in order to get the DREAM Act passed. These are all high-achieving, hard working students, and we owe it to them to see that the DREAM Act is passed this year ~ please contact your representatives. Mohammad, in particular, is in danger for his life because they kill young people with his orientation in Iran. You can read his story here:

    http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/coming-out-story-undocumented-and-gay/

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