Every day throughout the United States and Washington there are among us youths who are seeking the American dream with determination in spite of challenges we cannot imagine. They often go to work in the early hours before school to help their families, strive for and earn academic achievement in school by day, assist their communities and churches and, most important, honor the values of family, faith and country.
These are the undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. by families seeking a better life. These are the undocumented students who face each day with uncertainty, risk and fear. These are the undocumented students who are American in every way but on paper. These are the undocumented youth who have always called America their home and hope. These are the undocumented students who have dreams of college, careers and families. These are undocumented youths who are part of the future success of our nation. These are undocumented youths who want to give back to the country they have always loved.
The decision by President Barack Obama to finally acknowledge our undocumented students’ struggles and contributions is something we should all be proud of after too many years of ignoring how we address a broken immigration policy that has demonized and marginalized youths who have done everything right to be good citizens. While this is just a first step and must lead to honest dialogues and legislative action, the dark cloud is finally beginning to lift for these youths.
While public support is gaining momentum for these youths, there are still many who see them as a threat to our nation. How can a country with a strong history of inclusion turn its back on youths who have done everything right to be good citizens, and who – through no fault of their own – have found themselves in the middle of a caustic and sometimes irrational national debate?
We must as a country do the right thing – a value which has in the past set us apart as a nation. In spite of opposition, we did the right thing by ending slavery, allowing women to vote, ending school segregation, passing the Voting Rights Act, allowing gays to serve in the military, and much more. We must also give these youths an opportunity to continue to demonstrate their commitment to the U.S. without being marginalized.
I know that there are many who disagree with the president’s decision to address the issue of undocumented youths. This will not be an easy path, and will test us again as a nation. But I also have hope that people of faith, reason and compassion will find it in their hearts to examine their own conscience and imagine their own children living in isolation and fear, or under the cloud of being removed from the only country they have ever known.
I call on our elected federal officials on both sides of the aisle to have the courage to address head-on our immigration policies and the impact of inaction on families, especially youths.
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