The most fun I’ve had in a long time

A lot of my time this fall has been spent working on implementation and outreach around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy announced by the Department of Homeland Security on June 15, 2012.

For me, that day has joined the list of other momentous occasions when I ‘remember where I was’–getting the kids ready to go to the pool, quickly checking the weather on the computer, and then freezing as I read the news.

The requirements for young people to receive deferred action, which means, in most cases, protection from deportation and a work visa, for a period of two years, potentially renewable, were announced in early August, and DHS began receiving applications on August 15th (coincidentally, my son’s birthday, which I thought was a pretty nice present for him, not that I expected Secretary Napolitano to buy him anything).

I helped organize a forum for El Centro, Inc., still one of my consulting clients, on August 16th, and more than 400 young people and their families came. I still can’t decide which story moved me most, the 24-year-old new mother who hugged her newborn daughter tightly and whispered, “they won’t be able to take me away from you now,” or the 16-year-old son who embraced his father and, both of them crying, when the attorney told him that he could receive a work visa.

A week later, I participated in a clinic for deferred action-eligible youth, where I completed more than 15 applications myself, preparing paperwork to be reviewed by immigration attorneys. Again, there was the 16-year-old whose career dream is to go into inner-city youth ministry, armed with her guitar and her infectious faith. One young man, when asked if he had given any thought to what he wanted to do after high school, pulled out a college catalog with all of the courses he wanted to take circled, an annotated budget of what it would cost him, and a detailed, 10-year-plan for his post-college career. I guess he has thought about it some.

This policy is far from perfect.

Students still aren’t eligible for financial aid, and most will have to pay out-of-state tuition, which is prohibitively expensive. They could lose the ability to renew their work visas, and they are not getting any closer to permanent residency, even as they pay taxes and accrue lawful status.

It’s not the DREAM Act, and that’s what we need.

But, still, seeing dozens of kids and their parents lined up that Sunday morning, outside, wearing their church clothes and clutching all of their relevant paperwork, it felt like a victory.

Watching students diligently read and then sign the paperwork that will earn them a critical measure of security in the United States, it felt like success.

Hugging students I’ve known for 10 years and being able to congratulate them, with their parents–whose hard work and sacrifices are all for these children–looking on, it felt like, finally, winning.

On any journey for social justice, victories are critical for sustaining momentum.

These young people now know that refusing to give up and organizing in the face of high odds can make the impossible happen.

They’ve had a taste of it, and they’ll keep pushing for more.

It is a blast to get to stand alongside them.

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