June 13, 2013 -- This week, the Senate began debate on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, with the American public, and the Latino community, watching closely.
There is such strong support for a bill that the question is no longer if the Senate will pass something. The key question now is what that bill will look like -- who will be included, who will be left out, how long will the path to citizenship take, how many people will be deported in the meantime, and how much money will be poured into excessive, out-of-control border enforcement.
United We Dream, the largest network of immigrant youth in the country, has been organizing and advocating for legislation that creates a real roadmap to citizenship for 11 million Americans without papers, ends senseless deportations and reunites families.
As the Senate debate unfolds, United We Dream will be fighting to make sure the bill does not get watered down.
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Over a hundred DREAMers will descend on Washington, D.C., over the next four weeks. We will be walking the hallways of Capitol Hill every day, confronting our politicians and watching to make sure the provisions allowing our families to reunite are protected.
We are challenging elected officials to champion the "right to reunite" waiver that would allow some deported DREAMers, as well as parents and spouses of US citizens, to return to this country – their home for years or even decades. We will continue to urge an end to out-of-control enforcement and senseless deportations that tear our families and communities apart.
As a network of immigrant youth, we spent years organizing for our right to access higher education and pushing for the federal DREAM Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young people.
Today, we're fighting not just ourselves as DREAMers. We are fighting for our families, our communities, and our parents, who we know are the original dreamers who sacrificed so much for our futures.
My parents brought me and my brother to New York from Ecuador when I was only 13 years old and beamed with pride to see me graduate from high school with honors and go on to excel in college, earning a bachelor's degree and going on to complete a master's degree.
Now, we just need the opportunity to become citizens for our family's American dream to be complete.
We are concerned that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida says he wants modify the bill in the next few weeks, adding more border security provisions and more obstacles to the path to citizenship.
If Senator Rubio attempts to tamper with the path to citizenship, making it more difficult for aspiring Americans to earn their way to citizenship, we know that there will be significant backlash from his own immigrant community at home and across the country.
Latino and immigrant voters are watching closely. So we hope Senator Rubio listens to his mother, who, according to a Time Magazine cover story, offered him the following advice:
"Don't mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don't mess with them… They're human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don't mess with them."
Any efforts to make the path to citizenship more difficult must be rejected. Republicans are either for reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million or they're against it.
No more double-talk. It's time to decide once and for all if they are going to be on the right side of history and support immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship.
As DREAMers, we've proven time and time again that we're willing to confront members of both parties and that we're willing to work with either party.
So, once again, we will not just be watching Senator Rubio and his fellow Republicans. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Chuck Schumer and their colleagues need to know: we will also be watching Democrats.
Latino voters helped the Democrats hold their majority in 2010 and 2012. Now, will Democrats fight for us? Will they stand strong and refuse to compromise on the path to citizenship? Will they fight against attempts to water down or weaken the bill? Will they stand up and fight for families to be able to reunite?
We won't allow either party to trade away key pieces of the bill that matter deeply to our families and communities. This bill already reflects a political compromise, one that imposes too long of a wait for citizenship with too many roadblocks.
Our message to the Senate is clear: we are watching, challenging, confronting. And as Senator Rubio's mother advised: don't mess with us.
Cristina Jiménez is the managing director of United We Dream, the country's largest immigrant youth-led network.