One of the things that has struck me most about the immigration reform rallies in Chicago and other cities has been the large number of students participating.
During the big Chicago rally on March 10 that drew an estimated 100,000 marchers, hundreds of Chicago-area students didn't show up for class. School officials speculated that they were at the rally.
Since then, thousands of students from schools all over the city and suburbs and from youth advocacy groups--such as Mikva Challenge--have left class and protested overly punitive immigration reform.
So why do some of these young people say they'll continue to protest even if the landmark legislation now has scant chance of going anywhere soon?
Legislation that would criminalize immigrants criminalizes their parents who have worked hard here, toiling in factories, cleaning houses, picking fruit. The students view any measure that would denigrate their parents as also denigrating their contribution.
Many of these students--some themselves are undocumented--have grown up in this country and have watched their parents struggle to raise them.
The students have had to grow up fast. They've served as translators for parents struggling to speak English. They've baby-sat younger siblings while parents worked odd hours.
In Illinois, an estimated 500,000 people are undocumented.
Rita Gabriela, 17, a senior at Loyola Academy High School, said she and her friends rallied on March 10.
"We marched for all our relatives and neighbors afraid to show their faces or raise their voices because of their undocumented status," she said.
Gabriela, who was born in Guatemala and has been in Chicago for 9 years, said she and her peers participated in a rally outside the Batavia office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) last week.
They've met with members of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to learn protest strategies. They've traveled to Washington to lobby Illinois representatives.
It's not clear how many undocumented students there are in Illinois. But the National Immigration Law Center estimates that about 65,000 undocumented students around the country graduate from high school every year.
They know that the choices are narrowed for undocumented high school graduates. The best and the brightest may get accepted to some of the country's most prestigious schools, but they often can't attend because they can't receive federal financial aid to defray the cost.
Also, "on scholarship applications, you get to a point where it asks you to describe yourself," said Ana Padilla, 20, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago who came to the city from Mexico when she was 8.
"You fill in your grade-point average. You tell your class rank. But you get to the last line and it asks you if you're a citizen. And that's the only line where you can't compete."
Those who do manage to receive a college degree know their opportunities still are limited if they're undocumented.
Before we get in a huff about what they deserve or don't deserve, we have to remember that many of them were brought to this country as children and didn't have a say in the matter.
The Dream Act recognizes this. A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Dream Act would provide legal status for undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school and meet other standards emphasizing education.
The now-shelved version of the Senate immigration reform package includes it. But the Dream Act isn't primarily an immigration bill.
The immigration bill is about things like granting amnesty and enforcing borders and is complicated. There's a lot of legitimate disagreement about how it should move forward.
But the Dream Act is different. It's about young people who have grown up here and now want prospects for a better future.
The Dream Act has been around since 2001. The young people who were 17 and 18 in 2001 are now five years older. This new batch of students can't afford to wait around until Congress gets it right.
Yes, they're marching on behalf of their family members, but they're also marching on behalf of themselves.
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