SAN FRANCISCO – Elected and community leaders from San Francisco and Los Angeles met Wednesday with DREAM youth at San Francisco’s City Hall to celebrate the close of the UCLA Labor Center’s DREAM Summer. The gathering came on the heels of the Obama administration’s approval of the first Deferred Action applications earlier this week.
DREAM Summer is the first national program of its kind. It paired over 150 DREAM youth with full-time summer internships at organizations throughout the United States.
The event also celebrated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy of the Obama administration. On August 15, the administration began accepting applications from certain young undocumented youths; the program defers their deportations for two years and grants them temporary work permits. Over 70,000 applications have been submitted, and it is estimated that over one million youths may qualify.
In attendance were Mayor Ed Lee, President of the Board of Supervisors David Chiu, and Executive Director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs Adrienne Pon, as well as Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.
“We launched DREAM Summer precisely to promote and encourage and sustain the development of this new civil rights movement,” Said Wong. “These students, the Freedom Riders of the 21st century, will go on to change the course of U.S. history.”
Addressing the crowd, David Chiu said, “When I was growing up, I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to be the child of parents who were ‘legally’ allowed … We have national leaders who still don’t get it. Our country was built on the backs of immigrants.”
Many of the DREAMers present had heard about the program from friends. Antonio Perez, who interned at the Greenlining Institute, brought his friend Rene Figueroa to the event. As a student at Cañada College, Perez was active in protesting budget cuts, but was afraid to get more involved because of his undocumented status. He now attends UC Berkeley, and spoke about the value of being able to communicate with “people all over the country working for the same goal.”
Through DREAM Summer, Perez says he has been able to meet DREAMers from New York, Florida, and Arizona. Figueroa is one of his friends from Cañada College.
“These people are immigrants and don’t have many resources, and this is a good way for us to give back to the community,” said Figueroa, who until 2007 lived in El Salvador.
Julio Navarrete was born in Puerto Vallarta and now works as a Spanish teacher. He interned with Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC, one of the event sponsors), and was given the opportunity to coordinate its creative writing program.
“[The program] has meant that there’s hope,” said Navarrete. “I was in a really difficult place before I interned with DREAM Summer … I didn’t know what to do or where to go, and I didn’t have a community of fellow undocumented peers that I could turn to.”
Navarrete plans to wait before applying to the Deferred Action program because he is concerned about the outcome of the November presidential election.
“So much is on the line for undocumented people,” he said. “Every day I think about what may happen if Romney is elected.”
Speaking in front of the crowd, Navarrete quoted the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and discussed the need for undocumented youth to educate themselves now, because there will be more opportunities for them when policies change in the future.
Steve Lee, whose family lived in detention for two years, interned with Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (APIP, also an event sponsor).
“I want to thank the Obama administration for approving the first Deferred Action applications this past Monday,” said Lee.
Carla Lopez interned with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (another event sponsor). She stated that they provided her with “a safe space where I could be who I am – a queer undocumented woman of color. Before DREAM Summer, I felt alone in my struggle.”
Following Lopez’s speech, Arcelia Hurtado from the National Center for Lesbian Rights announced that the organization would be taking on Lopez as a full-time employee.
Mayra Diaz, who interned at a center that provides services to children and families, saw DREAM Summer as a valuable opportunity to get professional experience: “These are experiences that we could get as volunteers, but your responsibilities increase as an intern – more accountability comes with it.”
Continued Diaz, “Also though, as we get older, we can’t just be interning every summer. There is a need for more long-term programs that are sustainable for the organizations that are supporting us. There also need to be more actions to provide work permits.”
Commissioner Bill Ong Hing is the President of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, and the founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
“Teachers tell me many of their undocumented students are aware of their status and see little reason to apply themselves academically,” said Hing. “They’re discouraged by the cloud that they live under … that they won’t be able to work beyond the next election … They are here at any rate because their parents are dreamers as well.”
Other sponsors of the event included the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs, the Rosenberg Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation. San Francisco’s City Hall will be opening its doors to DREAM interns next summer.
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