Tuesday, December 6, 2011

26 Undocumented Teens

In honor of Human Rights Day (celebrating the UN's adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the first floor of the Salt Lake City and County Building will exhibit a special photographic collection by Lynn Hoffman-Brouse (photographer) and Annie Brewer (social worker). I like to think of it as a small qualitative sociological study. The exhibit is entitled, DREAMers and contains photos and hand-written auto-biographical notes of 26 undocumented immigrant kids who would have benefited by the federal DREAM Act, a bill which did not pass (again) last year. Here's what the SLC Mayor's Office of Diversity and Human Rights says about DREAMers:
The photo exhibit brings awareness through portraits and stories of the unique plight of nearly 30 young, intelligent, hard-working students who came to this country as children, were raised as Americans, but have no legal status that allows them to work, vote or apply for student aid. The intent of the exhibit is to help eliminate the negative stereotypes and misconceptions that are associated with undocumented immigrants.
An opening reception will be hosted by the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission and the Mayor’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights on December 10, 2011 at 6 p.m. at the City & County Building. Please RSVP to odhr@slcgov.com 
 The exhibit will be up December 1-31, 2011. The address of the Salt Lake City and County building is 451 S. State Street. But if you can't make it to see the exhibit in person, the online version of the photos and text may be found on the photographer's website.

Image and text of one of the 26 undocumented teens in the DREAMers exhibit

The DREAM Act (The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) is a federal bill that has appeared in many different forms. It originated in the U.S. Senate in 2001. It was debated in Washington in 2001, 2007, 2009, 2010, and again last year (2011). It proposed a pathway to permanent residency (green cards!) and eventual citizenship for undocumented youth who:
  • Came to the U.S. before age 16.
  • Have resided in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years.
  • Are between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of the bill’s enactment.
  • Have graduated from an American high school or received a GED.
  • Submit to a background check.
  • Have committed no felonies, and no more than 2 misdemeanors.
  • Are of “good moral character.”
Immigrants who meet these standards would be given conditional status for six years, during which time, they would be required to complete at least two years of college education or military service in order to then qualify for permanent residency.

The fact that this bill has never passed both the House and the Senate says something about the discrepancy between some politicians' public rhetoric and their real reasons. Here's the all-too-familiar conversation:
"Why are you so anti-immigrant, isn't America supposed to be a nation of immigrants?"
"I'm not against immigration, I'm against illegal immigration."
"But they come illegally, because they are desperate for the jobs and the better life that the U.S. has to offer, and they simply can't afford to wait the years and years it takes to successfully immigrate the legal way."
"Well, there are people who do it the right way--people who prove they deserve to be here legally, because they worked hard, had patience, followed the prescribed process, and obeyed the law. If everyone got to come in without any consequences, then it wouldn't be fair to the people who did it the hard way. In the end, it's about upholding the rule of law, we wouldn't want to reward people for breaking the law, it sends the wrong message."
"So it's about reward for law-obeyers, and punishment for law-breakers?"
"Then why won't you vote yes on the DREAM Act? It would give some rights to kids who were brought here by their parents. They didn't break the law. And in order to qualify, the kids have to prove that they've been law-obeyers, successful students and persons of moral character. So why are you against the bill?"
That's when the argument gets fuzzy. The politician stumbles through an explanation of how it would indirectly encourage more illegal immigration. He or she is no longer thinking about justice and mercy on the personal level (rights for individual law-obeyers, and punishment for individual law-breakers). Instead, he or she is loathe to imagine hoardes of people sneaking across the southern border so that their kids can be part of the DREAM program, coming in droves and corrupting society everywhere they go.

According to Wikipedia, major arguments against the DREAM Act include:
  • the concern that it will import poverty, and be a social burden,
  • the concern that it would admit individuals who already formed their identities overseas (that is, that it should be changed to include only those brought to the U.S. before their teenage years) 
  • the concern that it will cause degradation of the school system
Ah, so now we come to the root of the problem. For some Americans (and their political reps) it's not just about rule of law, or following a system the proper way. It's also about preventing the further influx of people they don't like: people in poverty, people with different cultural identities, and people who need extra help with their English in school. 

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