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Young ‘Dreamers’ get chance to come out of the shadows

AriannSalgado who worked make Illinois Dream Act reality attends bill-signing ceremony BeniJuarez High School last August with Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Arianna Salgado, who worked to make the Illinois Dream Act a reality, attends a bill-signing ceremony at Benito Juarez High School last August with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 10, 2012 1:34PM

Undocumented youths known as “Dreamers” have come to a crucial moment in their decadelong efforts to be recognized for what they truly are: Americans.

On Aug. 15, thousands of Dreamers are expected to begin the application process that will allow them to obtain a work permit and avoid deportation for two years. For many of them, this is a chance to come out of the shadows and begin to fully integrate into the only country they call home.

In June, the Obama administration announced that it would offer many Dream Act-eligible youth temporary relief through this kind of two-year “deferred action.” The program offers hope to many eligible young adults by allowing them to live and work in the United States lawfully. There are an estimated 800,000 Dreamers who might qualify, including about 75,000 in Illinois.

In 2001, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin introduced legislation called the Dream Act, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. The idea was to help find a path to citizenship for undocumented young people whose parents brought them illegally to the United States as children. But the bill has been stalled in Congress.

The Dream Act was supposed to help bright kids like Arianna Salgado, one of the most recognizable Dreamers in Illinois. She is only 19, but she’s a veteran in the fight to pass the Dream Act. This fall, she will be a sophomore at Dominican University, attending on a full scholarship.

The first time I met Salgado, she was still in high school. She was at a rally at the Federal Plaza, where she other undocumented teens proclaimed that they were “undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.”

The Dreamers created a grass-roots national movement, finding allies among pro-immigrant groups, law enforcement, university presidents, clergy and legislators, both Democrats and Republicans.

Then last summer, I found Salgado sitting between Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the signing ceremony for the Illinois Dream Act. She delivered the keynote speech in the crowded auditorium at Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen.

She came to the United States with her mother when she was 6. Her family is from Morelos, Mexico. She has lived in Chicago since then. She knows she is eligible for the Obama administration’s temporary relief measure, because she is under 30, a college student and has no criminal record.

Salgado told me she thinks the provision Obama approved is a good first step, but the Dreamers will continue to fight for the federal Dream Act and ultimately a comprehensive immigration reform.

“We are going to continue fighting until we have a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented who contribute with their labor to this country,” she said.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights will hold an informational session for Dreamers thinking about applying for work permits from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 15 at Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom. The coalition also will unveil a website,, where the “dreamers” can apply online.

The “dreamers” are American in ways that matter most. Many, like Salgado, are already under way to finish college and begin a promising professional career.

It is about time we say welcome home.

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