by Félix Pérez
Eric Luedtke hadn’t planned on being on the leading edge of a bruising, yearlong effort to pass the DREAM Act when he was first elected to the Maryland state Assembly in 2010. But he didn’t hesitate for a moment because of the job he held before entering public life and still holds: that of a middle school teacher.
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“I teach at a school with a large number of immigrant kids from every continent. These are kids who are as American as I am,” said Luedtke.
The Maryland DREAM Act was signed into law in 2011 after a close vote and, contrary to the widely held political wisdom at the time, was overwhelmingly upheld a year later in a statewide petition referendum. The law grants in-state tuition rates to students born outside the United States who meet certain residency and education requirements.
Why the surge in public acceptance from one year to the next?
“The biggest factor was the DREAMers themselves,” said Luedtke. “They told their stories. They went public. They went to rallies and meetings and legislative visits and said, ‘My immigration status doesn’t make me any less important or any less American.’ ” The referendum passed “overwhelmingly because people saw it was about kids in their communities.”
Fast forward to today, when the majority of Americans want Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform. Now is the time, Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree, for DREAMer students, their families and the millions of hard-working, law-abiding aspiring Americans to come out of the shadows.
That’s the message Luedtke, other educators and tens of thousands of students, concerned citizens and leaders from the faith community will take to Congress when they march on Washington April 10 for the All In for Citizenship March.
“When you have a policy in this country that is terrifying to 11-year-olds, something is wrong,” said Luedtke, who had a student whose parent was deported.
President Barack Obama likewise is urging Congress to heed public sentiment and fix the nation’s immigration system. At a naturalization ceremony yesterday at the White House, President Obama said:
[W]e’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants. And we’ve always been better off for it. The promise we see in those who come from all over the world is one of our greatest strengths. It’s kept our workforce young. . . Immigration makes us a stronger nation. It keeps us vibrant. It keeps us hungry. It keeps us prosperous. It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country. . .
We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken, that we’re not doing enough to harness the talent and ingenuity of all those who want to work hard and find a place here in America. And after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all.
- Sign up to come to the All In for Citizenship March. NEA will be at the staging area to make sure you have everything you need to make your experience as productive and as problem-free as possible.
- Share your story about an inspiring DREAMer student. If your story is selected, you will be flown to Washington to participate in the historic All In for Citizenship March on April 10. Hurry. The deadline is Thursday, March 28, at 11:59 p.m. EST.