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July 11, 2013

'Dreamers' Give Human Face to Immigration Reform

by Brian Padden

A network of young undocumented immigrants called "Dreamers" is playing a key role in advocating for immigration reform in the United States. Last year, President Barack Obama issued a directive giving many "Dreamers" semi-legal immigration status. They now are speaking out publicly, talking about the human toll of deportation policies and giving the reform movement a human face.

As U.S. lawmakers consider immigration reform, Brazilian born Renata Teodora wants them to think of her.

“It’s important to at least share your story, share who you are so that people know you are not, you know, some criminal. You’re not someone stealing their taxes, stealing their spot from school, that you’re just a regular American no different than anybody else,” she said.

Teodora is a "Dreamer," a term used by advocates to describe young, undocumented immigrants who can now live, work and go to school in America thanks to a presidential directive issued last year by the president.

Advocating for citizenship

To show why the current immigration system is inhumane, she recently traveled to Arizona with the pro-legalization group United We Dream to see her mother for the first time in six years. Her family was deported.  They left her behind so she could find a better life in America. While the reunion was staged to make a point, Teodora said speaking through the border fence was still very emotional.

“I didn’t think that I would have the memory of walking up to my mom and not being, not being able to hug her, and having this rusty orange fence in between the most beautiful person,” she said.

In a United We Dream video, Dreamers confront Florida Senator Marco Rubio prior to the Senate’s passage of an immigration reform bill that now is being considered in the House of Representatives.  

United We Dream’s Julieta Garibay said Dreamers in 26 states have energized the movement.

“I think many people started to see, like even if you are undocumented, you do have power, even if you are undocumented, you have a voice and you can put pressure on members of Congress and the president,” said Garibay.

Opponents speak

Opponents of granting the undocumented a path to citizenship call it amnesty, and they say it will encourage illegal immigration.

“If you give amnesty to these young people, they are on a path to U.S. citizenship in which they can sponsor the parents who brought them into the country illegally. So it is a slice of an amnesty that has large scale implications for the future," said Jack Martin, who is with the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

He does admit that Dreamers have been effective, though, in generating public support for their cause.