Open hearings in the 220th General Assembly Committee on Immigration Issues put a human face on some of the business items to be dealt with this week.
With voice trembling, a 16-year-old high school student told the committee that she has been “living in the shadow of fear” because she and her family are undocumented. She came to the United States with her parents when she was only 3 years old. She grew up worrying every day that her parents would be deported.
“Imagine that any day might be the last time you see your parents,” she said. “Imagine working so hard in high school knowing that you can’t go to college.”
Interviewed later, she explained that her parents came to the United States with a visa, which has since expired. They created their own business, in which she has worked since age 11.
A recent executive order by President Obama would protect many young undocumented immigrants already facing deportation. However, it does not give her legal status and would not allow her to apply for financial aid, which is the only way she could afford college.
She urged Presbyterians to support the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), which would clear a path toward legal immigration status for children of undocumented immigrants, enabling them to attend college and serve in the U.S. military.
Several speakers during open hearings in the committee urged action that would help the thousands of immigrants being held in prisons and detention centers across the country. The Rev. Gerson Annunciacao, from Brazil, works with the Presbyterian Immigrant Ministry of the Presbytery of Southern New England.
“I am a volunteer chaplain with nine small groups of immigrants in three different prisons,” he said. He told about meeting a young man from Mexico who had just learned he would be deported, leaving behind a wife and two daughters in the United States. Annunciacao asked the committee to consider, “How can we help these people get together as a family?”