Educator, DREAMer and U.S. Senate put human face on immigration reform


by Colleen Flaherty

Stephen Miller, a social studies teacher at a middle school in Bellevue, Wash., has seen firsthand, like so many educators, how our nation’s broken immigration system can harm students and their families. He recalls one recent incident of a hard-working student whose family life and education were turned upside down.

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“Last year, one of my female students who emigrated from Mexico suddenly stopped turning in homework. I was worried, so I asked our counselor to talk with this student,” said Miller.

It turned out that her father had recently been deported when U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents came to his workplace. Since then, her mother has been “on the run,” said Miller, hiding out and spending nights with friends or in the family car.

“The deportation of a father who was law-abiding, other than working without documents, caused a very good student to suddenly stop learning.”

With more than 50,000 DREAMers graduating from U.S. high schools in the United States each year, a roadmap to citizenship is paramount for many students and families. President Barack Obama mentioned the need for bipartisan reform in his State of the Union, and the Senate Judiciary Committee met yesterday to discuss the issue.

“Our immigration system is not working. Our communities, workers and employers are all frustrated by a system that treats a drug smuggler the same as a high-achieving student, undercuts honest employers and leaves millions in fear of deportation and vulnerable to fraud and other crimes,” said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in her testimony before the committee.

DREAMer Julieta Garibay
DREAMer Julieta Garibay/photo by Sewell Johnson

Julieta Garibay is a DREAMer and a founding member of United We Dream, the first and largest immigrant-led youth organization in the nation. Garibay, who was brought to the United States by her family when she was 12, attended Obama’s State of the Union and said she is very hopeful about reform.

“My family, the three of us, came here as undocumented immigrants, and we’ve come so far. Years ago when I started becoming involved, it was hard to say I was undocumented. I was scared to share my story publicly. Now we are being invited to the State of the Union as undocumented immigrants,” said Garibay.

When she first heard the news about attending the State of the Union, she announced it on her Facebook page. The first call was from her mother.

“My mother said, ‘I’m very proud of you. This is what we came to do. This is the change that we’ve been wanting,’ ” said Garibay. “A voice has been given to DREAMers and our allies, but it also speaks loudly to what else we can do and how much more we can push to be able to be full Americans.”

Garibay said that when there is so much to accomplish for young aspiring citizens like herself, one of the biggest agents of change has been educators.

“I clearly remember my first ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher, Miss Hernández. She was always very supportive. She would always say, ‘Julieta, the sky is the limit. Keep your eyes on the prize. You are college material.’ As teachers, you have so much power to inspire us like you inspired me every day.

“Teachers are just as powerful as the DREAMers because you are showing us a path. You are always inspiring us.”

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