Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Blog

By Maryam Al-Zoubi
Maryam Al-Zoubi is an Arab American Institute intern working at the Campaign for America's Future


“I am Undocumented, Unafraid & Unapologetic!” was the phrase that rang in Chicago’s Daley Plaza on March 10th, 2011.

I watched nervously in the crowd as my good friend Alaa Mukahhal, an undocumented Palestinian American, shouted those words from the stage. I was afraid for what might happen to her if she stopped living in the shadows, but as tears streamed down my face, I know I was proud that she had the strength to stand up and fight for her rights.

It was Alaa’s story that kept replaying in my head as I sat in the first official Senate hearing on the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a pathway to legal residence for undocumented Americans brought over before the age of 16 on the condition that they attend college or join the military. On Tuesday June 28th, 2011, with an audience close to 200 people, Senator Dick Durbin chaired the historic hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

Alaa is officially in deportation proceedings and her only hope to stay in the only home she’s ever known is for the DREAM Act to pass. We’re both hoping she gets that chance soon.

I call Alaa an undocumented Palestinian American because that’s who she is: an American with a side of Palestinian who just happens to not have papers documenting her residency here.

She may not have a document that classifies her as an American citizen, but that does not invalidate her love and pride for her country. As Alaa puts it:

“Because of our status, I and hundreds of thousands of people like me are not considered American. Why? A passport cannot label me. I am a Muslim, an Arab, a Palestinian, and an American. I am all of these things together, rolled into the person.”

Alaa feels that her story may seem different than the millions of other undocumented youth because she is Arab and Muslim, and thus also dealing with the intense Islamophobia and Xenophobia that has America today reeling. But overall her story is just like so many other young dreamers.

Alaa’s family is Palestinian but she was born in Kuwait. She has a Jordanian passport because the Kuwaiti government kicked out its Palestinian population in 1991.  

In hopes of finding asylum and a home for their two kids, Alaa’s parents got tourist visas to the United States. Alaa was only seven at the time.

A few years later her family’s plea for asylum was rejected by the US but Alaa’s parents didn’t have anywhere to go. In desperation, they remained in the United States.

In the face of the difficulties of affording college without federal loans or being able to work legally, Alaa went on to receive a B.A. in Architecture from the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana. Despite her many accomplishments and talents, Alaa is unable to get certified as an architect because of her undocumented status.

The debate around the DREAM Act revolves around three key issues: fairness, economic prosperity and national security.

Congress has no choice but to approve the DREAM Act if it hopes to save the US economy. The testimony of the witnesses on the June 28th hearing reiterated this point loud and clear. Senator Feinstein of California cited a 2010 UCLA study that indicated if 2.1 million undocumented immigrants become legalized, they would contribute $3.6 trillion to the economy over a forty year period. Since two million undocumented immigrants who are between the ages of 18 and 34 could eventually become eligible for the DREAM Act.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified at the hearing that the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2018 the US will be 3 million college graduates short of market demand, with 2.8 million jobs opening in high‐need fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Many STEM jobs are currently unfilled but are desperately needed if the US hopes to remain a competitive and innovated country. These jobs could be filled by the many qualified and talented undocumented students in our country. Instead, the US is helping foreign students train at those jobs, go back to their home countries and compete against us. Why not hire a DREAM student like Alaa, an extremely gifted architect and graphic designer, who wants to contribute to America and the American people?

Believe it or not, the DREAM Act would help our national security. The language in the bill states clearly that only individuals with “good moral character” would qualify. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified, “These individuals do not represent a risk to public safety or security. Yet as long as there are no legal options available for them to adjust their immigration status, they will be part of the population subject to immigration enforcement under the law.” The DREAM Act would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus its limited resources on individuals who actually do pose a security threat.

Senator Cornyn of Texas, who seemed unmoved by the witnesses’ numerous rebuttals to his concerns, wanted clarification of what precisely “good moral character” entails in order to qualify for the DREAM Act. Margaret D. Stock, Counsel to the Firm Lane Powell on immigration and citizenship law, responded to this concern by citing: “The Immigration and Nationality Act 101F, which provides a statutory bar to ‘good moral character’ for certain offenses, and there is a laundry list of those offenses.” Offenses that would normally bar a person from becoming a naturalized citizen would also bar them from using the DREAM Act.

Cornyn also expressed concern over whether the DREAM Act would burden university systems. Duncan’s response was flawless: “Never in my life have I seen a study that shows college educated young people hurt the economy. It is an investment, not an expense.”

Duncan sees DREAM students the same way I see Alaa; they are innovators, the next creators of jobs, and the drive that will move our country forward.

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