In this op-ed, Gaby Pacheco, program director for TheDream.US, explains that young people everywhere can be advocates.
I believe we all have an opportunity and a responsibility to be an advocate
Whether encouraging small acts of kindness in our daily lives or being at the forefront of national campaigns to change hearts, minds, or laws, we can each play a role in helping make the world around us a more just and welcoming place
No matter who or where we are, we can all be game-changers.
I have worked as an advocate for more than a decade — first as an activist sharing my own personal story to help raise awareness about young immigrant “Dreamers” and now as the program director for TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college-access and success program for undocumented immigrant youth
We have provided more than 3,000 scholarships to Dreamers to help these young people gain an education, because we believe that America does best when everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
When I was a teenager in the early 2000s, no one knew who the Dreamers were or recognized their plight — hundreds of thousands of young people who have grown up in America and are ready to contribute to the country they call home, but who lack the immigration paperwork that will allow them to fully do so
Now, Dreamers are at the center of the national conversation in Washington, D.C., and across the country, and that's because of the work of young, fearless immigrants.
Despite the higher profile of Dreamers today compared with a decade ago, Congress still needs to pass a law that allows them a way to resolve their immigration status
But thanks to the courage, stories, and personal advocacy of Dreamers, the overwhelming majority of Americans wants Congress to stand up for them.
My own advocacy journey has taken me to some unforgettable places
I started being an activist and sharing my story when I was just in high school because I thought perhaps the adults might be able to help
However, I quickly realized that it was up to me to bring others on this journey and to convince the leaders in our community and in Washington, D.C., to adjust our broken immigration laws.
My journey even brought me to Trump Tower in the summer of 2013
Along with several other young immigrants, I met the then–celebrity real estate developer Donald Trump, who was still a couple of years away from entering the world of politics
After an hourlong conversation, during which he heard each of our stories, Trump said that we had convinced him to support Dreamers.
It is hard to now know that the same man who said he was convinced by our stories nonetheless moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last September — a program that had allowed nearly 800,000 Dreamers to receive work permits and protection from deportation
Now, unless Congress passes legislation to resolve their uncertain status, hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients are in danger of losing their jobs and protections over the next two years.
It would be self-defeating for America if Congress and Trump did not resolve the uncertainty facing Dreamers by passing and signing new legislation
These are young people who have grown up as Americans, and through fulfilling their big dreams, they are already contributing to America’s future
We all benefit from Dreamers studying on our campuses, thriving in our workplaces, and contributing to our communities.
When we turn on our TVs today or watch our social media feeds, we can see the power that young people have
Emma, Cameron, and Sarah are just a few of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who are using their moral authority and voice to speak out against the senseless gun violence that occurred in their school on Valentine’s Day
They do not believe that just because they are young they are powerless
Instead they are using their voice to take on one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the world and to call for changes to our laws
These young leaders, like Dreamers, are modern-day John Lewises who will become powerful and influential lifelong leaders.
Don’t be fooled by your age or “lack of experience” — everyone has the power to make a difference
Whether joining the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students’ efforts against gun violence, speaking out on behalf of Dreamers in their time of need, or finding your own cause, everyone can be a powerful advocate.
Related: Judge Rules DACA Protections Must Stay in Place
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