An Undocumented Student's Message to Obama

By Gaby Pacheco 5-13-2011

We want actions, not words.

For nearly two decades I've called the United States of America my home. I emigrated from Ecuador with my family, grew up in Miami and attended public schools, where I was a high-achieving student who eventually made it to college. I am also an undocumented immigrant.

It was at Miami Dade College -- the same institution of higher learning that President Barack Obama mentioned several times in his El Paso, Texas speech on immigration -- that I gave a commencement speech to my class back in 2006. At Miami Dade, I was active not only as student government president at one of its eight campuses, but also as the Student Body Association president of the entire community college system in Florida.

I would have never been able to achieve positions of leadership were it not for the brave decision my parents made one day to come to the United States. It was an incredibly hard decision for them, as it is for anyone to leave family, language and everything they know, to take a chance at the American dream.

President Obama was correct to say the issue of immigration "often elicits strong emotions." It's hard to understand why a family would risk so much to obtain so little. And while it's important to practice compassion, too often the rhetoric becomes hateful, as we have witnessed with the recent SB 1070 law in Arizona and its copycats in other states. Sometimes it provokes violence.

In the middle of this divisiveness, there can be hope. But only when politicians, who talk about the broken immigration system and their attempts to reform it, follow their words with actions.

Last year was a year of incomplete actions. When the DREAM Act was finally brought to debate in Congress, it fell five votes short of the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster. The act would allow people brought into the United States as children to earn legal status by attending college or serving in the military.

We are a nation of immigrants, a nation that dreams, a nation that elects one person out of the many, the president, to guide Congress toward the changes he promised. President Obama has the executive power to stop deportations.

Today, it's a real threat to our democracy when police officials start acting like immigration officers, pushing 11 million people who already live in the shadows into greater fear. To use our resources to deport talented youth, and separate mothers and fathers from their citizen children is simply un-American.

Given the harsh political climate, immigration reform and the DREAM Act will be difficult to discuss, but we are ready to organize again.

We know President Obama supports immigration reform. We know he supports the DREAM Act. That's not in question. We need him to use his executive power to stop deportations of youths eligible for the DREAM Act, keeping families together until Congress is able to put its differences aside and acknowledge that we are part of the future of our great country.

Youth like myself are not alone in this plea. Last month, 22 Democratic senators sent a letter asking the president to use executive power to stop deportation of DREAM Act students. Just two weeks ago, the American Immigration Council released a memo by two former general counsels for the Immigration and Naturalization Service that outlined the president's authority to grant administrative relief.

He should listen, and act. We need so many people to understand our struggle and to see that we are just caught in a political limbo. We love God above all, but we also love our friends, communities, and this country.

Gaby Pacheco is an undocumented student leader from Florida who hopes to become a special needs teacher. In 2010, she walked 1,500 miles in support of the DREAM Act in what was dubbed the Trail of DREAMs. She also joined with Sojourners, other clergy and DREAM students to participate in the Jericho March in December 2010 in support of passage of the DREAM Act.

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