07/22/2013

DREAMer looks forward to coming out of the shadows

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Marco Antonio Quiroga was only 2 years old when he emigrated with his parents and three siblings from Peru to New York City. Today, he is one of 11 million who hope this will be the year that comprehensive immigration reform brings them out of the shadows of undocumented life.

Marco Antonio QuirogaAFT vice president Maria Neira introduced him to TEACH Conference attendees on July 22 as an example of the tens of thousands of accomplished young people who are products of United States schools and see themselves as American in every way—except on paper. "A gifted student, who graduated at the top of his high school class, he had a diploma but was missing a Social Security card," said Neira, who is also a vice president of the New York State United Teachers.

Quiroga (pictured above) shared his inspiring story, which began with his mother taking her children on a bus to Florida to escape an abusive husband, and continued with her single-handedly raising them to reach for educational and other opportunities.

A grass-roots organizer for immigration equality, Quiroga, who recently graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University, has a dream of attending medical school. But he is currently using his talents to advocate for immigrant and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights. He told the audience of educators how his life was changed when he had the opportunity to work for an AFT affiliate in Florida through Dream Summer, a professional internship program.

"It gave me mentoring, guidance and a support system to make the connections to become a leader," he said. "For the first time in my life, I am judged on my merits, not my status."

Quiroga has gained temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Last summer, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating DACA in response to Congress' yearslong failure to pass a Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for students through college attendance or military service. It is a component of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate in June.

The House of Representatives has not yet acted to introduce its own immigration bill. Republicans have indicated that they might take a piecemeal approach to reform, with individual bills on border security, visas and e-verify but no broad pathway for the 11 million aspiring Americans. During hearings on July 23, the House of Representatives considered a measure for DREAMers—but not their families. It would exclude people like Quiroga's sacrificing mother or his brother who was deported eight years ago because of a paperwork oversight.

"How could we say, 'Yes, we want a pathway to citizenship for us," said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, at a press conference, "and then say, 'Deport our parents'?"

Quiroga never came out to his teachers about his immigration status when he was in school—he didn't feel safe doing so. But in his remarks at TEACH, he encouraged teachers to give comfort and support to students who may be anguished about their status. "I am proof that all my community needs is a slight crack in the opening for opportunity. Be the person who opens door of opportunity to change someone's life."

The AFT, with the AFL-CIO, has been working hard to support the passage of comprehensive immigration reform. When Congress goes on recess in August, plan to visit your U.S. representative's home district office. Or go to the Reclaiming the Promise Take Action page and send a letter to your representative telling him or her that the time is now for comprehensive immigration reform.

[Barbara McKenna/Michael Campbell photo]

July 22, 2013