Young Immigrants Renew Push for Path to Citizenship

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 1:15 PM EST
Cendy, an undocumented immigrant, tells her story for The Dream Is Now.

Undocumented immigrants' moment for political agency may have finally arrived. Obama says he will push for comprehensive immigration reform in the first months of his second term, and Republicans—who realize they can't just rely on old white people to win future electionsare praising similar plans. Now, as immigration proposals begin to take shape in Congress, the grassroots are rustling, too. Activists launched a new online campaign on Tuesday, called The Dream Is Now, pushing for the passage of DREAM Act-style legislation to give permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants.

Created by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs—both education activists—the campaign's centerpiece is an "interactive documentary," where undocumented young people can "come out" as noncitizens and tell Americans how DREAM Act provisions would affect them. The immigrants, their families, and friends can also post photos and sign a petition to tell Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth. The Dream Is Now is all over the social medias, too (#thedreamisnow).

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"I feel American," an undocumented immigrant named Jocelyn, tells the camera. "American American. It's all I know. I feel like I'm just like everyone else."

Guggenheim will eventually collect all the videos and make them into a traditional documentary film. "The documentary becomes a living, breathing petition," he told Yahoo News. "These DREAMers are putting everything on the line. When they come out like this, they are saying, 'I'm ready to risk it all for what I believe.'"

The DREAM Act itself, first introduced in 2001, would have legalized young people under 30 who entered the United States before they were 15, lived in the country continuously for five years, and planned to enroll in college or go into the military. It enjoyed bipartisan support early on, but remains dead in the water. The closest it came was in December 2010, when it passed the House but fell short of the 60 votes needed to avoid a conservative filibuster in the Senate. In its place, President Obama adopted a work-around, signing an executive order last June to stop deporting immigrants under 30 who came to the US before age 16 and have a high-school diploma or have enlisted in the military. But the action did not create a path to citizenship, so it is only a partial fix for young immigrants seeking permanent legal status.

A full fix is likely in the offing. As one indicator, rising GOP star Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, has discussed an immigration reform proposal that is similar to Obama's and backs a path to citizenship for undocumented youth. But so far, it's just been talk: Rubio has yet to introduce written legislation.

That concerns Powell Jobs, who says she got interested in the DREAM Act by working on an initiative to help low-income and minority students attend college. She told Yahoo News that Rubio's support for DREAM-style provisions seemed "reasonable and principled," but said she wanted to learn more: "The key is to see the legislation once it's written."

Whether or not DREAMers get their way, young immigrants will keep pushing. "I know what I'm capable of doing," says Jocelyn, "and I don't like the fact that someone can hold you back."

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