By Eugenia (Genie) Hopper Zavaleta (MCE '57)
My degree in Christian Education has led to many years of ministry with high school and college students. It has always been exciting to work with the diversity and challenges of youth. In retirement, the work continues. The challenge never diminishes, and the most recent call has involved working with undocumented high school and college students who need the DREAM ACT. This involves issues of justice, the kind of justice that was taught at Austin Seminary in McCord’s theology and Marney’s ethics and other courses.
After 9/11, we found that people of color were becoming victims of prejudice and law enforcement. My husband and I were asked to work with teachers and immigration lawyers as advocates for the DREAM Act and for the undocumented students who were threatened with arrest and deportation.
|Genie (middle) and her husband Hector (right) attend "The Dream: The Whole Story" event in April 2012 at Arizona State University. Also pictured (from left to right) are Dr. Kelly Steele of ASU, and DREAM ACT students Dulce Matuz, and Ileana Salinas.
The DREAM ACT is a bill that was introduced in Congress in 2001, to give legal status to undocumented youth who were brought to the US as small children. But it has never passed.
The DREAM ACT students do not have US birth certificates, so they cannot get Social Security numbers. This means they cannot work and they are denied many opportunities. In Arizona, it means triple tuition for higher education, and they cannot get a license to drive, even though they are students of good character.
These students have grown up here as Americans. Most do not remember the country of their birth. They are bright and have worked hard in school, but they live in poverty and uncertainty. If they are identified as being "illegal," they are sent to Immigration for deportation. It is an incredible feeling of success to be able to secure the release of students caught in the immigration system through no fault other than "being here without papers."
Those of us who work with these students realize how unjust the system is for them. There is Danny, who graduated at the top of his class in high school and graduated magna cum laude from Arizona State University. He was in his first year of law school when Arizona passed Prop 300, and he could no longer work and pay the excess tuition. There is Dulce, who has graduated at the top of electrical engineering and still cannot accept those good job offers, because she does not have a Social Security number. There is Erika, who graduated in psychology but cannot receive the scholarships for graduate study, because she is undocumented. There is Rosalio, who dropped out of high school, because he saw no future. Then there are all the high school graduates who cannot afford to start to college and they cannot work.
However, in the last four years, the students have organized and have become a powerful force for justice. They now lead the effort for passage of the DREAM Act, and we work along with them.
On June 15, we received the first good news in our 10 years of working for the DREAM ACT. President Obama found a way to expand immigration policy to grant deferred action for DREAM ACT students. We are excited. We try to wait patiently to see how this will work to provide a form of legal status and possibly work permits.
We will still need to work for the DREAM ACT and for comprehensive immigration reform, but this deferred action is a start.
I believe that Christians are called to work through political processes for justice. I believe that Christians are called to share the struggles of those who are oppressed. I cannot say how much it means to me to be able to work with these amazing students. I love them and admire their courage and their compassion and their commitment to help themselves and others. It is a privilege to join with them as they work for “the Cause.”