In our public schools, we taught them to be civic minded and to exercise their rights as Americans. There were no separate courses where young undocumented immigrants could learn how to be submissive second-class citizens. When they learned about Martin Luther King's dream, they felt they had the right to dream that way, too.
So let's not be surprised when we see them getting involved in the political process and speaking bluntly when they confront politicians. We taught them that marching, protesting and demonstrating for our civil rights is the American way. And they are about to show us how well they learned that lesson!
All over the country, without even national coordination, young undocumented immigrants already are confronting the presidential candidates who would deny them of their dream of going to college and becoming productive members of our society.
They are about to make the Development Relief Education Alien Minors Act a huge issue in the presidential race. The DREAM Act is the controversial legislation that would legalize young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children if they attend at least two years of college or join the military. It's an issue that will demonstrate the clear difference between President Barack Obama and whomever turns out to be his Republican opponent.
While Obama has continuously urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, his leading opponent, Mitt Romney, has vowed to veto it. Instead, while pandering to Latinos in Florida, Romney and Newt Gingrich proposed a military-only DREAM Act — another clear demonstration of their lack of compassion for these young people who consider themselves Americans and should not be treated differently.
In his blatant pandering to right-wing extremists in the first few GOP primaries, Romney went out of his way not only to oppose comprehensive immigration reform but even the light version of that reform.
"I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that's not given to those people who have stayed in line legally," Romney said in one of the GOP debates. "... I have indicated I would veto the DREAM Act if provisions included in that act to say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here that they can become permanent residents. I think that's a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply and get in line with everyone else."
I say the mistake is Romney's failure to appreciate how such an extremist position would backfire on him in the general election. I say he chose the wrong issue to prove to right-wing extremists that he is really a conservative, especially since it hasn't worked. Knowing that he has flip-flopped on this issue, Conservatives still are reluctant to embrace him and Latinos are more motivated to vote against him.
Until now, politicians who oppose the DREAM Act have been somewhat sheltered by demographics. They usually come from districts where Latinos and other pro-immigrant voters still are a small minority. While immigrant rights advocates have demonstrated that they can organize huge demonstrations in major U.S. cities, demographics have made it much more difficult for them to demonstrate their political strength.
But things are totally different now. With an anti-immigrant extremist like Romney leading the GOP race for president, now activists who support the DREAM Act will have one distinct DREAM target. The time has come for them to go beyond shouting "Si Se Puede — Yes We Can" and to turn those words into a political movement.
And it's already happening! In New York City, DREAM Act activists shouted "Veto Romney" as the former Massachusetts governor headed for a campaign fundraiser. In Nevada, the "dreamers" organized a rally just in time for the GOP primary. In Miami, activists greeted the Romney campaign bus shouting "education not deportation" and three of them interrupted a Romney stump speech shouting, "Why are you trying to separate our families?"
After delivering a victory speech for winning the New Hampshire primary, Romney was reportedly approached by several DREAM Act activists. "I love this country. I'm a dreamer. I want you to support the DREAM Act, sir," one man reportedly told him. To which Romney dismissively responded, "Fine, thank you," and moved on.
Perhaps the most dramatic encounter came when a young Latina shook Romney's hand outside a New York hotel, identified herself as an undocumented immigrant and asked Romney, "Why aren't you supporting my dream?"
That young woman, Lucy Allain, later told reporters that Romney pulled his hand away when she revealed her immigration status, "as if I were a criminal."
Let's face it: By making an anti-immigrant extremist like Romney the frontrunner and likely-GOP nominee, by selecting the one who has gone father to the right on immigration than any of his already-draconian GOP opponents, the one who wants to make conditions so miserable that immigrants will have to "self-deport," Republicans are giving Latinos and immigrant rights activists a unifying opponent.
President Obama deported more immigrants than any other president and failed to deliver on his promise to get Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But compared to Romney, who would clearly make life much more miserable for immigrants, the choice is easy.
Even Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who has been an outspoken critic of Obama on immigration, had to acknowledge last week that between Obama and Romney, there is no comparison. "There is no route to the White House that does not go through a Latino neighborhood. Any winner in either party needs a significant proportion of Latino voters," Gutierrez told reporters on a conference call. "When you say you want millions of us to leave the country ... we will vote against you."
It's true. Instead of voting enthusiastically for Obama because he failed to fulfill our immigration dreams, Latinos will instead have no choice but to vote against Romney, who has vowed to turn our dreams into nightmares.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.