Brooks: On graduation day, remember the dreamers

We are headed into graduation week here in the Newport-Mesa area.

Because the teens in my neighborhood are graduating from Newport Harbor High School, that is the graduation I will attend.

I have received several college graduation announcements from neighbors as well. This is particularly exciting when they are the first in their family to graduate from high school or college.

We love the stories of people coming here with a dream, and their children doing well in school and going on to graduate college and make a solid contribution to society.

We recount versions of this narrative over and over to our children and students: "No matter your circumstances, if you work hard, you can succeed."

I'm beginning to doubt the narrative. I cringe when I hear the graduation speakers talk of hope and promise.

It's not that I don't believe in hard work, or am too cynical to dream, it's that our policies and systems do not align with our national narrative. The students who graduate Thursday have been told for 12 years that if they work hard, they will be rewarded.

But, as a nation, we have failed another 65,000 DREAM Act students we have educated into a dead end.

Once again this year, students who were brought here not of their own choice, who grew up in the United States, whom we have invested in, will graduate with the tools to work but not the proper legal documentation nor process for obtaining that documentation so they can fully participate.

Once again this year, students are graduating with college degrees but cannot legally put their knowledge, experience and energy to work. You will notice them at graduation ceremonies because many are "coming out," with "Undocumented and Unafraid" written on their caps.

These DREAMers (named for the legislation that would grant residency to undocumented students who graduate from college or serve in the military) are speaking out louder than ever. They have decided to tell their stories to move us to action.

The cover story of this week's Time magazine, "We Are Americans," highlights some of those stories. The author, Jose Antonio Vargas, who is himself undocumented, calls immigration, "arguably the fundamentally most misunderstood issue in America."

Four years ago when we sent students off to college, we told them it was worth it. I remember saying, "Work hard. Do your best. There is a good chance in four years we can pass the DREAM Act. By the time you graduate, you'll be able to work. "

But the DREAM Act failed to pass in December 2010.

As I sit down to write "Congrats Grad!" cards this week, I struggle to know what to say.

Is it a false hope to promise that things will be better if they work hard? Things will only be better if we work hard, those of us who can vote. Those of us who know our undocumented neighbors and see the injustices they experience must be willing to join the courageous DREAMers who are coming out. This is where I see hope.

Just this week a group of more than 100 evangelical Christian national leaders called on lawmakers to make key reforms that uphold the tenants of the Christian faith: hospitality for the stranger, unified families and just laws.

It was a hopeful day to see powerful influences like Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist denomination stand up for our immigrant neighbors and call on their constituents to do the same.

So once again, I send graduates off with celebration and hope — not a false hope, but a burning hope that pushes me to work hard so that by the time they graduate college our nation's policy will align with its story.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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