This was not a celebration.
Just days after President Barack Obama announced a new immigration policy that promises to bring temporary relief to undocumented youth, hundreds of would-be beneficiaries rallied in Washington D.C. to remind the world they are not satisfied with the policy.
Over 250 so-called DREAMers, or undocumented youth who have been brought into the United States illegally by their parents, gathered Monday at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, just steps away from the nation’s Capitol building for the annual DREAM Act Graduation 2012.
Dressed in dark blue, black and red graduation gowns, the group of teens and twenty-somethings came armed with bullhorns and hand-drawn signs from 17 states including Louisiana, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Illinois, New York and New Jersey.
Tired from overnight bus rides, young adults held signs that read: “Undocumented and Unafraid,” and “This is My Home.” The marchers walked to the Supreme Court chanting in unison: “Down, Down, with Deportation, Up, Up with Education,” as police officers blocked their way to the building.
The annual push for the DREAM Act, which would pave the way for citizenship for undocumented youth, continued as planned - despite Obama’s new policy that promises to stop the deportation of undocumented youth while offering two-year work permits.
The non-celebratory mood of the rally was not a surprise to Marisol Conde Hernández of the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, and a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant.
“The only thing that can fix this is national legislation – not temporary stop gap measures,” she said. “It's really symbolic, and we still don’t know how it's going to be implemented.”
Keynote speaker Prernar Law, co-founder of the Dream Activist, stressed cautious optimism.
“I think we won a big victory two weeks ago with Obama’s announcement,” she told the church. “You should all be proud.”
But the reality for some in the crowd is that there is no time for celebrating small victories.
“I’ve spent $22,000 – all of the money I saved up for college – on fighting off deportation,” said Juan Carlos Guevara, a 22-year-old who bussed over 11 hours from Mableton, Georgia dressed in his black and maroon trimmed graduation gown.
“I hope they’ll let me stay.”
Guevara is an undocumented immigrant who has been in the United States for over six years.
Today, the high school honors graduate who is an aspiring chemical biologist is fighting off the government’s second attempt at deporting him.
The legal mess began following a car accident caused by a drunk driver over a year ago. Guevara said he was sent to the hospital, where authorities found out about his immigration status.
Guevara hopes he will qualify for respite under Obama’s new policy. Still, he considers it important to continue to fight for the permanent DREAM Act.
Guevara, one of five boys in his family, is coming to terms with the possibility that he may be split from his family for good.
“Basically, I have to start another life again, on my own in Mexico City,” Guevara said, as he held back tears.
Sitting a few rows up from Guavera in the Lutheran church were Irving De Dios, 27 and his wife Aleyda De Dios, 20, who traveled from North Carolina to take part in the rally.
The young couple marched for their 3-month-old daughter, Estrella.
Irving, who came to the United States from Mexico at 15, qualifies under Obama’s new policy, but says it’s not enough to stop them from fighting for a more permanent solution.
The DREAM Act would give undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors a path to legalization as long they meet a strict set of criteria, including graduating from a U.S. high school, going to college or serving in the military, and staying out of trouble with police. The measure passed in the House of Representatives in 2010, but did not pass in the Senate.
Obama's vow to put deportations on hold for DREAMers who qualify is, by the President's own admission, a temporary solution in the absence of a permanent solution by Congress.
“I have a daughter and we want to teach her the importance of fighting what you believe in,” Irving said, while wearing his undocumented and unafraid shirt. “We are fighting so that we don’t have see families split up.”
In front of Irving and Aleyda De Dios, an 18-year-old American citizen from Illinois wore her green gown in support of her undocumented brother and sister.
“I am here for them because I do have a vote, and I am going to use it,” said Karina Sánchez, whose family is from Mexico. “We should all have rights – not just those under Obama’s temporary plan.”
Before a national gathering of Latino leaders Thursday, GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney said that as President, he would give undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors the chance to stay in the country permanently --and an eventual path to U.S. citizenship-- but only if they serve in the U.S. military. During the GOP primary, Romney said he opposed the DREAM Act, and vowed to veto it if he becomes President.
While the push for the DREAM Act inspired hundreds of young people to trek hundreds of miles by bus, ironically, it was one of the oldest people in the room, 44-year-old Alejandra Pimentel of Hamilton, Ohio, who stole the show in the end.
A mother of four, Pimentel has two children who are U.S. citizens and two others brought to the United States when they were five and six years old. Her husband has been deported three times, and is in Mexico.
She currently is fighting deportation proceedings for one of her sons.
Pimentel, who suffers from arthritis, looked past the tears welling up in her eyes with both hands on the altar, and stared down at the teens hardened by years of living in fear of deportation.
"I am so proud of everyone of you for fighting for your rights," she told them. "I support you as I support my own son."
In them, she saw her children. In her, the youths saw their mother.
Follow Bryan Llenas on Twitter @Bryan_Llenas .
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