December 1, 2012
Undocumented immigrant youth excited about government talk of immigration reforms
For four years running, hundreds of undocumented immigrant teens and twentysomethings have been gathering each winter for the United We Dream National Congress.
But this weekend’s meeting in Kansas City, Mo., is going to be different, New York organizers say.
Immigration reform is suddenly back on the table after Latino voters helped President Obama defeat Mitt Romney.
Tens of thousands of young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as kids — including more than half of the 18 New Yorkers who planned to attend the gathering — have gotten or are set to get work permits under a new program.
“Undocumented Immigrants” are even on Time magazine’s short list for “Person of the Year 2012.”
“It’s exciting. We’re having this big opportunity,” said 19-year-old Wilian Mejia [member of Make the Road New York], an aspiring dancer from Richmond Hill, Queens.
Mejia left Honduras six years ago — but arrived in the U.S. just six months too late to qualify for Obama’s deportation reprieve and work permit program, called deferred action. He is confident that bigger reforms will come soon, he said.
“It’s not for sure, but you have to believe. Something’s going to happen in those four years,” he said.
Mejia and nine others are attending as a delegation from the nonprofit Make the Road New York, while eight young people are representing the New York-based MinKwon Center for Community Action. About 600 people in all were expected to attend.
“This year is a critical year,” said Emily Park, 25, who works as a fellow at MinKwon. “I’m hoping to do a lot of strategizing.”
Park applied for deferred action two months ago, and got her work permit in the mail last week, she said.
Make the Road New York youth organizer Natalia Aristizabal has put together a group to attend the congress each year.
“I want them to get inspired so that they are ready to fight next year,” she said. “We want Mom and Dad to get benefits . . . the landscape has totally changed.”
For some on the trip, it’s their first time out of New York City since they left their homelands as babies.
“It’s the first time I’m going to travel,” said Pamela Dominguez [member of Make the Road New York], 20, who is originally from Mexico and now lives in Elmhurst, Queens.
A sophomore at LaGuardia Community College, Dominguez hopes to become a veterinary technician.
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