Community youth testified and advocated for possible solutions for immigration reform in a town hall meeting Dec. 17, 2009

Different communities impacted and frustrated by the nation’s current immigration system assembled at Mission High School to commemorate International Migrants Day in a town hall meeting Dec.17.

Migrant workers, same-sex partners and parents who have been separated from their children as a result of what many believe to the City’s deeply flawed Sanctuary City Ordinance took the stand to share their personal experiences.

Each account highlighted the various failures of the City’s—and by extent the nation’s, immigration—policies.

A few of the most notable testimonies came from members of the Korean-American and Mexican immigrant community of Oakland, who recounted their arrival to the U.S., their hopes for immigration reform and a call to action to others to help find sensible solutions to the current political climate and the negative impact its having on youth.

Among the topics discussed was the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, a piece of proposed federal legislation would provide certain undocumented immigrant student the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency.

“I am one of tens of thousands of students across the country who would benefit from the DREAM Act.  Despite my hard work in high school as a working student, I’m determined to attend college,” said Ju, whose chose to withhold his last name, a Korean-American student from Oakland advocating for the legalization of undocumented youth. “I only want the opportunity that most people take for granted. Most of all, I have nightmares of being deported.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s alteration of the ordinance 17 months ago (Juvenile probation department policy 8.12) required the SFPD to report undocumented youth arrested on a felony charge to ICE, effectively changing the city’s long-standing policy of shielding immigration youth from being surrendered to ICE for deportation.

Since the Mayor’s revision to the ordinance last year more than170 youths have been referred to federal immigration authorities.

“I have nightmares of ICE officials knocking on my door and arresting my mom and my sister,” added Ju. “Everyday I suffer, but still determined for a higher education.  Today I have a 3.8 GPA and I am a student body president of my school. I work hard to show them that anything is possible in this country, and (am committed to being) a role model to other people, especially the Korean-American Community.”

Advocates at the event explained that the DREAM Act would provide undocumented youth the opportunity to become legal permanent residents.

“Immigration laws are unfair, unjust and most of all, inhumane.Working 20-40 hours a week undocumented, and underpaid makes you see no future and makes you feel stuck,” said another speaker, a young lady who migrated to the Bay Area from Mexico when she was 2 years old. “However, my plan is to attend medical school and become a practicing physician, and no matter what, I will treat people documented or undocumented, anyone who is sick, because to me every human being is equal.”

Diana Rashin, an organizer with the East Bay Alliance explained that these were but a few examples from the thousands that show the extent to which immigrant communities are suffering as a result of a broken immigration system.

“The timelines are really critical and we know that President Obama has made a promise before the election that immigration reform was going to be a priority, and we need to hold him accountable for that promise,” she said.

The Bay Area-wide town hall came two days after Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) submitted the year’s first legislation aimed at comprehensive immigration reform.

Sponsoring organizations of the event included the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (comprised of the African Advocacy Network, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Asian Law Caucus, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights, Saint Peter’s Housing Committee, and Dolores Street Community Services).