As the DREAMers stood up one by one, beaming with pride as their stories were revealed to the audience, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) looked on like a proud father. He has stood by his “adopted” children for years; he has fought for them and protested with them. He has embodied the optimistic and undying spirit these young adults carry through the most trying and dangerous times of their lives.
Senator Durbin admitted himself that he has not always been aware of the struggles facing many of the immigrant children and youth in our country. Families being torn apart, students being deported days before their high school or college graduations, and capable volunteering bodies being told that they could not serve in our military because they were not legally American were just some cases that inspired Senator Durbin to become a champion for the cause. “When I would walk to my car late at night, sometimes there would be a shadow lingering nearby,” Senator Durbin said, “and soon enough they would walk over to me and introduce themselves as an illegal immigrant, as a DREAMer.” A dialogue about the issue is unequivocally the most important step we can take to abate the deportation of these immigrants who want nothing more than the opportunity to contribute to our great nation, and this is the first time the stories of the undocumented have been discussed on the Senate floor.
Senator Durbin comes from an immigrant family himself, and is “damn proud of it.” The spirit of immigration provides hope and inspiration to thousands around the world who genuinely believe that the United States is the place where dreams can come true. However, a powerful portion of Americans are still unconcerned about their plight, despite many of these DREAMers being well educated and committed to the United States: the three featured immigrants at Senator Durbin’s talk were: Tolu Olubunmi (Consultant and former Communications Director for United We Dream), Cesar Vargas (law graduate, Managing Partner of DRM Capitol Group, Marine hopeful), and Tereza Lee (Concert Pianist, Doctoral Student, the first DREAMer to be profiled by Sen. Durbin). Although these three do not represent the entire population, they provide a shining example of how immigrants are truly valuable assets to the country. They have risked deportation many times by openly advocating for immigrant rights, insisting that “if we are going to risk deportation, we’re going to do it on our terms. We’re going to go down fighting. We want an opportunity to earn our citizenship and our place in this country. It’s not just ‘they want this and they want that’ like the critics say…we just want an opportunity.”
Unfortunately, the extraordinary stories behind the faces have been lost in campaign rhetoric; without a story, a history, a struggle, faces alone have no power. “It’s the human aspect that gets people. Cut through the politics. I am a person. I am not a number.”
If we are to reform immigration laws, we must remain hopeful, strong and upright as the DREAMers have. The magical thing about this country is the belief, whether it is true or not anymore, that we can be anything we want when we grow up. We go to sleep dreaming of being astronauts, musicians, professors, or athletes, and so do the DREAMers.