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MARCH-STUDENTS Mar-23-2010 (780 words) With photos posted March 21 and 22. xxxn

Students join immigration rally to lobby for their futures

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sergio may only be 13, but he already understands well the connection between his chances of attending college in five years and his immigration status.

The eighth-grader from suburban Maryland moved from Colombia to the United States with his parents in 2001. He has never been back and is as Americanized as they come.

But unless something changes to enable him to become a legal U.S. resident, going to college will be unaffordable for his construction-worker father and housekeeper mother. Though the U.S. is the only country he has ever known, he lacks legal immigration status and many states now require proof of legal U.S. residency to obtain in-state tuition or scholarships.

On March 21, Sergio's parents, Diana and Luis, brought him and his sister, Luisianna, who is 6 and a U.S. citizen by birth, to the immigration rally and march at the National Mall. Luisianna carried a poster she and her mother made, depicting a happy family and the words "Don't forget the DREAM Act," "We are one family" and "Home, Sweet Home."

Like many of the young people among the 200,000 at the rally, Sergio and his family were advocating for comprehensive immigration reform that includes provisions allowing students who were brought to this country as children to legalize their status, enabling them to continue their education at in-state tuition rates. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act, has long been a separate piece of legislation that has failed to advance in Congress.

For this family, returning to Colombia is not a practical option, Luis said. "We came here for our son," he explained. When they left Colombia years ago, the economy there was a shambles and drug warfare had made life too unsafe to raise a family there, he said.

The drug warfare has eased, but the Colombian economy is little improved, Luis said.

So they joined the March for America on a warm spring day, joining others who were trying to make their cause understood in posters, banners and slogans on T-shirts.

"Who you calling illegal, Pilgrim?" "Change takes courage," "Justice and integrity for all," "Obama, we voted for you, reform immigration now," "Reform, not raids," "My faith, My vote," "We are America" and "Friends keep promises," were among some of the themes of signs and shirts.

Others quoted Christian and Jewish scriptures calling for believers to care for the stranger.

"Undocumented and Unafraid" read black shirts worn by members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, a Chicago-based group that includes immigrants who do and do not have legal residency as well as U.S. citizens. At a recent "coming out" event in Chicago, several of its members declared themselves to be undocumented and told their stories.

In Washington, Hugo, 21, said that although he was born in the United States, he wears an "Undocumented and Unafraid" T-shirt out of solidarity with other people who put themselves at risk of arrest and deportation by going public about their immigration status.

"Speaking, fundraising, helping people come out of the shadows" have been the Chicago group's main activities, Hugo said. An important role for group members has been to serve as mentors to young people who don't even know they're in the country illegally until it comes time for them to get a driver's license and they learn they don't have the papers they need to apply, he said.

Lucero, a 17-year-old who came from Florida with her Catholic parish, said that college appears to be off limits to her, even though her grades are among the highest in her school and she's already received a scholarship. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico in 2000.

"I've got a 4.3 GPA and I can't go to college," she said. "I would like to become a teacher." Friends in similar circumstances who have already graduated "are working in the fields or McDonald's" instead of going to college, she said.

"One of them wants to be a lawyer," Lucero said. "She's staying home helping her mom with the younger kids. Another wants to be a nurse and she's working in a small store."

A short distance away, Eduardo Pina, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Joliet, Ill., explained his artwork, being held by another woman from St. Pius V Parish in Chicago. The crucifix with the label "Christ of the immigrant" was a carved wooden sculpture adorned with a pair of handcuffs that Pina said came from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"It's incredible to me that the United States works for human rights in other parts of the world, but won't address the violence being done to human rights for immigrants in this country," he said.


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