Would I Risk as Much as the Dreamers?

By Lonnie Ellis 6-30-2011

The youngest person in a crowd of teenagers and young adults at the Dream Act Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday was an 8-year-old girl. She was adorable with a huge grin on her face as she stood next to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) at a reception after the hearing.

The Dream Act, first introduced 10 years ago, would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young people who meet very specific criteria. In order to be eligible, these young immigrants must have arrived in the United States as minors, graduate from U.S. high schools, fulfill good moral character requirements, and complete two years in the military or at a four-year college. The Dream Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in December, 2010, but fell to a filibuster in the Senate and has now been reintroduced and given a committee hearing by Sen. Durbin.

In our current immigration system, children and young adults just like the 8-year-old smiling Latina are often denied an affordable education and sent on a path of marginalized work, social isolation, or even deportation. The Dream Act presents a chance for them to realize a full life here in the American community.

Ola Kaso, an 18-year-old born in Albania who has lived in the U.S. since she was 5, spoke very eloquently about her love of America and her energetic volunteerism. She said that although her family has done everything according to the law, there is no way under current law for her to obtain citizenship, and she is set to be deported in less than one year. Ola just graduated from high school with a 4.4 GPA and has enrolled at the University of Michigan on a scholarship to study pre-med. Asked about her career goals she said she wanted to be a surgical oncologist.

"I want to remove cancer tumors," she said, "especially for those who cannot afford good care." What reasoning would demand that we deport this young woman? (You can watch Ola's testimony here beginning at the 122:24 mark.) Imagine the reaction of young people facing deportation from their families to a country they might not even remember: "Why do they want to send me away? And where? Where do they want to send me?"

The witness of these young people shows us what we ought to do politically, and challenges us to re-envision ourselves as a nation. And beyond that bigger picture, they inspire me personally and spiritually. As I watched these bold testifiers who risk deportation, I found myself asking: What is the biggest risk that I have taken for justice? No analyst thinks the Dream Act will pass anytime soon, and yet these kids are witnessing with their lives to inspire change. How can I surrender more fully to God in order to risk more of myself?

The 8-year-old girl stood smiling at the podium at the side of a U.S. senator, knowing that she was a part of something big. I too want to risk myself, with a smile on my face, and fully trust that I am a part of God's plan for justice.

portrait-lonnie-ellisLonnie Ellis is a faith-based organizer with the Franciscan Action Network, and a summer fellow at Sojourners through the Beatitudes Society.

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