United We Dream and Educate MD’s Kids Keep Fighting for the DREAM

dream-actThis blog gives me the opportunity not only to share my voice, but also to lift up the voices of others standing for welcome at LIRS and throughout the nation.  Today I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS. He speaks with Kristin Ford, Communications Director of  Educate MD’s Kids and Press Relations Manager at United We DREAM.

The DREAM Act has easily been one of the most defining and emotional issues of the immigration reform movement.  All across the country, DREAMers have given a face to the newest push for reform, as one after another has “come out of the closet” and announced that they are undocumented and unafraid.  These young people are telling their stories of their desire for a good education and a chance to become hardworking, contributing members of society.  Brought here as children through no choice of their own, they have become symbols of the injustices of the current immigration system.

This past November, Maryland became the 12th state to pass DREAM-like legislation, and the first to do so in a general vote, passing it by nearly a 60-40 margin.  While the statewide DREAM Act does not address documentation status, it does allow DREAMers equal access to higher education and student aid. Many people, however, view the MD DREAM Act as a test run for the national debate over immigration reform, helping to propel the issue to the front of the legislative to-do list.

Kristin Ford, as a key contributor to the MD DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) efforts through her work at Educate MD’s Kids and United We DREAM, provides a unique viewpoint on the victory of the MD DREAM Act and how it has influenced the ongoing immigration reform debate.  She provided answers to our questions via email. Here are her thoughts:

Luke Telander (LT): What was the pivotal moment for you in deciding to get involved in the DREAMers’ fight for justice?

Kristin Ford (KF): There was no one pivotal movement; I’ve devoted my career to fighting for the common good and the DREAMers’ fight for justice is a natural extension of that.  I feel very privileged to work alongside inspiring young people who’ve given so much to the country they call home, overcoming adversity and injustice.

LT: Your coalition for the Maryland DREAM was called Educating Maryland Kids.  How did you choose this name? 

KF: Our coalition, Educating Maryland Kids, was made up of faith-based, education, civil rights, and labor organizations who were all united in their belief that talented, hard-working kids who’d gone to Maryland high schools and whose families paid Maryland taxes should be able to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities. We focused on the educational aspect of the issue because the law didn’t address legal status (since that’s up to the federal government) and was really a matter of leveling the playing field for students looking to further their education.

LT: What was the most important thing you learned from the MD DREAM Act campaign?

KF: The most important thing I learned is that Americans understand and appreciate the contributions immigrants are making to our nation, especially young immigrants who want a college education and to give back to a country that has given them so many opportunities.  This is a matter of fairness and opportunity.

LT: What similarities and differences have you found in working for DREAM efforts at the state and national levels?

KF: DREAM at the state level has a much narrower focus—the campaign in Maryland was simply about in-state tuition for DREAMers.  At the national level, there are a lot more complexities and nuances to the debate.  Overall though, the same theme runs through all DREAM and immigrant justice efforts—should people who call this country home and contribute so much have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and become full-fledged Americans?

LT: Do you think that the DREAM movement has helped put a face on the immigration debate?

KF: Absolutely, DREAMers have done incredible work sharing their stories and connecting with Americans to shape opinions on this debate and move the conversation forward.

LT: How did United We DREAM come to its decision to fully focus on comprehensive immigration reform?

KF: Six hundred DREAMers, representatives of United We Dream’s nearly 50 affiliate organizations, gathered in Kansas City, MO November 30- December 2, 2012 for the United We Dream (UWD) 2012 National Congress, setting the national direction for the network and unanimously ratifying a political platform for change.  The platform includes a fight for DREAMers, parents and the entire community, demanding path to citizenship for 11 million Americans without papers and the ability to travel freely and have access to higher education, health care, and workers’ rights.

LT: In the perfect world, what would CIR look like in 2013?

KF: United We Dream is committed to fighting for legislation that provides a clear and direct roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Americans; fair treatment under the law for all, including access to higher education, health care, and safe, fair working conditions; and an end to excessive enforcement practices and senseless deportations and abuses.

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