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.
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.