By Andrew Keene, NFTY North American President
To me, the feeling is unimaginable. The feeling of fear of being caught or arrested or even worse, deported. This feeling isn’t felt by a small group as many people think. 11 million people live in this country without legal documentation, fearing daily they might be deported, leaving their family behind.
Until last week, I was nearly oblivious to the challenge these 11 million people face each and every day. In my mind, it was black and white- those who live in this USA legally, and those who do not. What I did not realize is that it is nearly entirely a grey area.
Immigration reform has been a priority for millions of people nationwide for years. It has now made its way to the docket of the United States legislature with Senator Marco Rubio and House Representative Luis Gutierrez leading the way. Progress has been made in the form of protecting the “DREAMers” or children of immigrants by allowing them to become citizens, attend school, and participate in society without fear of deportation. Legislation to protect families and provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people has passed the Senate, however, House Representatives like Peter Roskam (Rep-IL) have contributed to the delay of its passage.
Last week, I had the chance to join voices with political and religious leaders in Chicago, IL to call on Representative Roskam and the entire House of Representatives to pass comprehensive, sensible, immigration reform. While I had prepared a few remarks to deliver, I was not prepared for the emotional toll the rally took on me.
The repetition of the facts in combination with many hopeful and some anguished faces in the crowd was truly overwhelming. The number 11 million kept ringing in my head. The enormity of the situation did not come into focus until it was my turn to speak. As I approached the microphone, I looked into the crowd and thought of the tireless work of community organizers trying to create a more just society. I thought of the adults whose goal in life it was to live the American dream, and now only live in fear. And most profoundly, I thought of the DREAMers, my peers, who live day-to-day not knowing if their family will remain intact.
The DREAMers are an inspiration to me. As a NFTYite, I pride myself in my commitment to social justice and tikkun olam, and while the social action programs and volunteer opportunities I have taken part in are compelling and meaningful, being immersed in a crowd for even an hour who live with this challenge, took on a whole new meaning of social justice. Seeing a group of teens my age who live day-to-day under extreme injustice instilled a sense of ownership within me. I truly feel a sense of obligation to lobby, and campaign, and fight along side my peers so that they too can live the American Dream.