Undocumented students speak out

DC WebsiteIn March 2013, the Washington State Dream Act was approved by the state House, making undocumented immigrants eligible for state-college financial aid benefits. Bellevue College students have been working for social justice and equality  together to share their stories and advocate their rights. Recently, two BC students, Andrea Torres and Maria Jimenez went to Washington, D.C. with the Washington State Dream Act Coalition, WSDAC, to lobby for fair immigration laws.

The Dream Act works to provide conditional permanent, legal residency to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors, have graduated from U.S. high schools, and have lived in the country for a span of five continuous years prior to the bill’s enactment. It also works for those who have contributed to the military and provides for them under different circumstances. These residents are people who feel at home in the U.S., people who feel that they are indeed citizens. While in D.C., Maria Jimenez and a group of other activists were part of a “huge historical event,” where they pledged their allegiance and sang the National Anthem to show that they are “real citizens [who] don’t need a paper to prove it, [they just] need a chance to show it.”

Undocumented people in the U.S. are not privileged with the fundamental rights other U.S.-born citizens are entitled to. A large portion of these people can’t afford health or dental care by themselves, and are not considered eligible for financial aid for school. There is also a constant fear of being deported to a land that never really felt like home. Jimenez explained that she, as an undocumented person in the U.S., has had to “fight for [herself] and others” for the rights they should have. She also said that her status leaves her dreams “on the line,” and that risks comes from the fact that someday, for technical, legal reasons alone, she may be “separated from the people [she] love[s].”

Jimenez was invited to D.C. by Carlos Padilla, a leader of the WSDAC, at the time she was at Bellevue College’s Leadership Retreat, Camp Casey. She “couldn’t resist” the invitation, and went off to D.C., beginning her “new life as an activist.” Fighting for hers and other peoples rights was a powerful experience that not only passed the Washington State Dream Act through Senate, but also gave her the chance to meet her “fellow dreamers from around the states.” Even with all the energy and hope for the passing of the Dream Act, it did not make it further than the Senate this time around. But undocumented residents still hold high hopes for the future, and know that an inclusive reformation to the law will help millions of people on their path to citizenship. “We made it clear that we would come back to make them responsible for their promises,” said Jimenez. Jimenez has high hope for the future.

Her experience in D.C. has lead Jimenez to realize that it is her “responsibility to fight for [her] dreams and the dreams of [her] friends and family because, like Carlos says, “We’re the dreamers, the dreamer warriors!’” She and millions of others around the country believe that the rules and restrictions and the separations of families within the community “have made us stronger each time.” Her hope for the “future of WSDAC is that, with each story and each fight, we can teach others about who we are and invite others to fight along with our cause.”