Written by Daryl Nerl
Angel Diaz was brought from Venezuela to the United States by her parents when she was not quite 3 years old.
She learned English, went to school and said the Pledge of Allegiance every day. She became a “proud” Easton High School Red Rover, a student senator for her senior class and vice president of the school’s business club.In the only home Diaz has ever really known, she grew up American. And yet, in the eyes of the law, she is undocumented—an illegal immigrant.
On Tuesday, Diaz, 19, told her story to a few more than 60 demonstrators who converged on Payrow Plaza, outside Bethlehem City Hall. Their aim is to get U.S. immigration laws changed so that people like Diaz—Dreamers they are often called—can have a clear pathway to American citizenship.
There are an estimated 11 million young people like Diaz in the United States who are unable to enter military service or go to college because doing so would put them at risk of deportation.
“I believe that we shouldn’t continue to get punished for the decisions our families have made because we had no choice,” Diaz said.
“I stand before you all on behalf of all the Dreamers who deserve a pathway to citizenship, the opportunity for an education past K-12, the opportunity to learn about our roots without having to just read about it, and the opportunity to make a difference in this country.”
The U.S. Senate has adopted a bi-partisan immigration reform bill, but the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives has refused to act.
Jose Campos, a Bethlehem attorney and an immigration team leader for Organizing for America, urged those in attendance to call their congressman—which in the Lehigh Valley is either Charlie Dent, the Republican from the 15th District or Matt Cartwright, the Democrat from the 17th District.
“This young lady deserves the best of the best we offer. That’s the American dream,” said Easton Mayor Sal Panto, who expressed disappointment Dent and the rest of Congress for failing to address this issue.
“Congress is stifling the issue of immigration,” Panto said. “I know this is a novel idea for Congress, but they must act.”
“They must act because just maybe, a person like Angel can cure cancer or invent a cure for the common cold. We don’t know. We are stifling the creativity and the intelligence and imagination of 11 million young people who do have dreams.”
Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said that a Congressional Budget Office study of the adopted Senate immigration reform bill showed that it would create 3.2 million new jobs, improve the solvency of Social Security and cut the federal deficit.
“In my mind this is a test to see just how serious those folks in Congress are about the economy, about deficit reduction and about job creation,” Callahan said.
“Over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2010 were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants,” he said. “Do we want to stop these people from entering the country?”
For now, Diaz has been documented under a special program implemented by the president—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—which promises that there will be no government action to deport her for two years.
That has allowed Diaz to attend Northampton Community College and become the president of the Student Senate. She plans to graduate with an associate’s degree in business administration in May.
Still, she wonders if she can pursue her dream, further her education and become an immigration attorney.
“The point is there are so many people out there, with so much potential, that are scared and feel what I felt,” Diaz said.
“One thing I do know is that one day I will be an American citizen.”