Hope for a Failed Dream

After progressive legislation fails to pass in Congress, a familiar question seems to be: what now?

After the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate, Minerva Stone saw the disappointment as an opportunity to strengthen a motivated base.

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) would have provided a path to legal citizenship to those undocumented youth who are eligible.

On Dec. 18, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of bypassing a filibuster of the DREAM Act but fell five votes short on passing the decade-old measure.

Stone is one of the organizers of the newly formed HOPE Coalition in Orange County. The HOPE Coalition aims to bring together different organizations for human rights.

The HOPE Coalition hosted a community meeting called “Generations of Lost DREAMS: Finding Solutions” on Jan. 28 at Betsy Ross Elementary School in Anaheim.

The Coalition is comprised of community organizations and leaders, including Los Amigos of Orange County, Orange County Community Housing Corporation, Santa Ana LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and the Orange County DREAM Team.

The goal of the meeting was to educate others about the DREAM Act in order to introduce the idea of a human rights coalition.

To be eligible for the DREAM Act, undocumented students must have entered the country when they were 15 or younger and graduated high school or obtained a GED.

In order receive a green card, the bill requires them to complete two years in the military or two years of college and there is 10-year plus waiting period. Only six years later would they be eligible to apply for citizenship.

At the Coalition meeting, Dr. Roberto Gonzales, an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, gave a presentation about the struggles of undocumented immigrant children growing up in the United States.

He has done extensive studies in the field of undocumented youth and their trajectory into living adulthood. They receive a K-12 education but there is not a continuity after they graduate high school, he told the audience.

Undocumented students, he said, work hard to keep up with their peers and get good grades throughout their adolescent years but cannot continue to succeed in the “real” world due to their status. He said they are integrated into a legal framework and have all the normal experiences of Americans.

“These students grow up watching Barney and Power Rangers. They study in high school, date and go to prom,” he said. “They accumulate a whole host of Americanizing experiences. Each year of progressing into society, they grow closer to their American peers and further away from the realities of their parents.”

Their inability to produce paperwork when trying to get a job is a huge barrier in adulthood, according to Gonzales. He said many accomplished youth end up working in restaurants or doing manual labor during or after college. At times, it is hard to get those jobs in the first place because they are seen as overqualified.

He said the DREAM Act would help alleviate some of these issues and help undocumented individuals attain status through their hard work in college.

A few of the other highlights of the meeting included the stories of members of the OC DREAM Team, which is the main advocate group for the DREAM Act in Orange County.

Adrian Gonzalez is a 24-year-old Cal State University Northridge student majoring in Deaf Studies. He came to the United States when he was 3 years old. His parents were deported in 2008.

He talked about his struggles with finding an internship that would prepare him for his dream job. He said he is part of the Coalition to get support from the community for students like himself.

“We need not only financial support but moral support as well,” he said.

19-year-old Jamie Kim is a Fullerton College student majoring in International Relations. Her parents came to the U.S. from South Korea when she was a child. She said she worked very hard to succeed in middle and high school so when it came time to go to college, she was not able to go to a university like her friends did.

However, the DREAM Act activists she has come across, including those with the HOPE Coalition, motivate her to push on.

“I have never seen a group of such passionate and outspoken people,” she said. “You can just see the passion in their eyes and I could not help but to join them.”

Kim wants to go into the Air Force and eventually work with the United Nations on the behalf of the United States.

“I just want to give back to the country that has given so much to me,” she told the audience.

After the meeting, Stone said the DREAM Act is a gateway to having a conversation with the community about human rights.

The HOPE Coalition will try to tackle myriad of other issues including homelessness, unemployment and affordable housing.

“We want to create a neutral space for reform aside from heated and ego driven discussions about politics,” Stone said. “Our hope is to rebuild some of the burned bridges within the different movements of our community.”

Stone said there is a need in Orange County to network with different organizations, community members and leaders to work under a common platform for change.

“Everything is fragmented because each advocate group is working for their own cause,” she said. “We want to meet in the middle with those who are in support of human, immigrant and civil rights as a way to outreach to the residents of Orange County.”

Video of some of the speakers including prominent OC DREAM Act advocate Antonia Rivera and Dr. Jose Moreno, a Cal State Long Beach Latino Studies Professor, can be viewed below:

Cross posted to Orange Juice Blog (Thank you to Vern & Gabriel)

Amber Stephens