by Félix Pérez
Gaby Pacheco is a tireless advocate for DREAMers. She’s testified before the U.S. Senate, was profiled by Time magazine, walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, D.C., and has been interviewed on more news programs and by more newspaper reporters than she can remember.
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But when all is said and done, she gives credit to educators for whatever she’s been able to accomplish.
“I’m here because of you,” Pacheco told educators from across the nation gathered in Washington this Saturday.
“I’m here because I had great and amazing educators and school personnel, counselors and coaches who loved me and cared for me and educated me. I’m here because of great public schools.”
Pacheco, like the 60,000 DREAMers who graduate from U.S. high schools every year, had no say in the matter when she was brought to the United Sates by her parents as a young child. Her life and her aspirations are uniquely American. Pacheco earned a degree in special education and fulfilled her teaching internship at Florida’s Miami Senior High School.
Arizona math teacher Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said educators are “on the side of the angels” when it comes to immigration reform. “Compassion compels us to act.”
Van Roekel continued:
We call them DREAMers because they’re aspiring young Americans who dream the American Dream. They are valedictorians, honor students, idealistic, hard-working. They are our students and former students, and given a chance they will be our future.
Educators and DREAMers nationwide contributed to history when the first comprehensive immigration reform legislation in more than 25 years was introduced in the Senate three weeks ago.
The “Gang of Eight” bill confers special status on DREAMers and prioritizes family unification. Titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the bill:
- Provides a five-year path to citizenship for DREAMers who arrived in the United Sates before the age of 16 and have completed high school or earned a GED.
- Retains the ineligible status of DREAMers, until they are citizens, from all forms of federal financial aid and means-tested public benefits, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
- Emphasizes family unification and increased training, personnel and resources for immigration courts.
- Stipulates that individuals in the United States prior to December 31, 2011, will have a 13-year pathway to citizenship provided they pass a background check, show a grasp of basic English, and pay any assessed tax liability, fees and a $500 fine.
This Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee begins a weeks-long process of debating and amending the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill. A bill has yet to be introduced in the House.
Van Roekel and Pacheco commended the Gang of Eight for bringing the bill forward. The critical step now, said Van Roekel, is that “the politicians have to hear from their constituents” repeatedly as the legislative process unfolds into the summer.