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PORTSIDE  June 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Children of Undocumented Families "Outing" Their Illegal Status

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Date:

Mon, 4 Jun 2012 21:43:23 -0400

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Children of Undocumented Families "Outing" Their
Illegal Status

by Helen O'Neill

Associated Press via Chicago Sun-Times June 3, 2012

http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/12896746-418/children-of-undocumented-families-outing-their-illegal-status.html


Across the country, children of families who live in
the United States illegally are "coming out" -- marching
behind banners that say "undocumented and unafraid,"
staging sit-ins in federal offices, and getting
arrested in the most defiant ways.

In "outing" their families as well as themselves, they
know they risk being deported.

But as states pass ever more stringent anti-illegal
immigration laws -- and critics denounce their parents
as criminals -- these young people say they have no
choice.

"I breathe American air, travel on American roads, eat
American food, listen to American radio, watch American
TV, dress in American clothing," says Alaa Mukahhal. "I
have attended private and public American schools, read
American authors, was taught by American teachers,
speak with an American accent, passionately debate
American politics and use American idioms and
expressions. A piece of paper cannot define me. I am a
Muslim, an Arab, a Palestinian and an American."

Mukahhal, 25, crashed headfirst into what she calls the
"invisible wall" of the undocumented after graduating
from the University of Illinois with a degree in
architecture. Born in Kuwait of Palestinian parents who
brought her to Chicago at the age of 6, Mukahhal only
realized the implications of her status when she
started applying for jobs. She considers herself
luckier than others: Illinois allows in-state tuition
for undocumented students. But Mukahhal cannot work in
her field, because she doesn't have a Social Security
number or a work permit.

"My life was at a standstill," Mukahhal says. "My mind
was withering. It is like being stuck in time, except
I'm still aging."

Mukahhal, despairs when she hears the anti-immigrant
rhetoric of politicians and others, who tell her to
come into the country "the right way" or "get in line."

"People don't understand," says Mukahhal, who applied
for asylum in the hope that an immigration judge will
understand her situation. "There is no line for someone
like me".

Critics say any path to citizenship for young people
like Mukahhal is an amnesty, one that rewards and
encourages the illegal behavior of their parents, and
drains state and federally funded financial aid
programs.

Even critics who are sympathetic to their cause say the
federal government has failed to secure the U.S.
borders and that it's too costly to provide schooling,
hospital care and other public services to
non-citizens. Offering a path to citizenship for those
brought into the country illegally as children, they
say, simply rewards the parents' law-breaking.

Still, more young people are publicly "coming out" and
asserting their right to stay-- testing the Obama
administration's professed new policy of "prosecutorial
discretion," designed to focus on the deportation of
known criminals, not students or immigrants with no
criminal record.

"When we challenge the system, the system doesn't know
what to do with us," says Mohammad Abdollahi, a member
of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance who has
traveled around the country, organizing some of the
boldest protests to date.

Abdollahi, 26, who came from Iran at the age of 3 and
grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., says as a gay man, he
cannot return to a country where homosexuality is a
crime punishable by imprisonment or even death -- a fact
he says he uses to good effect whenever he is
threatened with deportation.

Disgusted by the 2007 failure of the DREAM Act, which
would allow a path to citizenship for some undocumented
youth who graduated from high school and spent two
years in college or in the military, Abdollahi and
others organized small "coming out" events in safe
areas, like college campuses. The first big "Coming Out
of the Shadows" rally was in Chicago in March 2010.

The movement quickly gathered strength, with young
people actively fighting and publicizing deportation
cases, organizing annual "coming out" rallies across
the country, and -- taking cues from the civil rights
movement -- getting arrested for acts of civil
disobedience.

According to the nonpartisan American Immigration
Council, an estimated 2.1 million young people might
qualify for legal status under the DREAM Act. About
65,000 undocumented students graduate from American
high schools every year.

"People say, go back to your country, but where are we
supposed to go?" asks Tereza Lee, who was born in
Brazil of Korean parents, who brought her to Chicago
when she was 2. "This IS our home, the one we pledged
allegiance to every morning before school."

Lee, now 29, holds a kind of iconic status among
"dreamers", because, in a sense, she was the first to
go public.

A gifted musician, Lee was accepted into major music
colleges around the country, including Julliard. But
she couldn't attend without financial aid, which she
wasn't entitled to because of her status. Tearfully,
Lee, then 18, "came out" for the first time -- to her
music teacher -- who was so struck by her student's
plight she called the office of Sen. Richard Durbin, a
Democrat from Illinois. It was Lee's story that
inspired Durbin to introduce the first version of the
DREAM Act in 2001.

"We need to be doing all we can to keep these talented,
dedicated, American students here," Durbin said, "not
wasting increasingly precious resources sending them
away to countries they barely remember." 

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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