On this blog, I try to share both my thoughts and those of others standing for welcome at LIRS and nationwide. Today, I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS, with Josue Aguiluz, a DREAMer and immigration reform activist.
It’s been over 10 years since senators Durbin and Hatch first introduced the DREAM Act, and though it has never made it through Congress, it’s hard to underestimate the impact that the DREAM has had on the immigration debate. Not only has the federal DREAM Act inspired passage of DREAM-like legislation in 12 states, but it has also influenced the wider immigration reform movement. DREAMers, with their tales of courage and sacrifice, have become some of the most vocal and visible proponents of reform, making the truths of our current immigration system’s destructiveness inescapable.
The work of Josue Aguiluz, and other DREAMers like him, was critical to the stunning passage of the Maryland DREAM Act this past November. However, his activism for justice is far from over. Like many DREAMers, he has now turned his attention to comprehensive immigration reform.
I was lucky enough to interview Josue via email. Here are his thoughts:
Luke Telander (LT): Can you point to an experience in your life that motivates you to fight for immigrant rights and the DREAM Act?
Josue Aguiluz (JA): That experience was getting out of high school and starting to pay my college in its entirety, while keeping up with school. It was tough, but as I worked I had the chance to meet other immigrants (co-workers). Most of them had mothers who worked crazy hours to pay for their sons/daughters college. This experience gave me a deep insight of the struggles immigrants face on a daily basis.
LT: How did the MD DREAM Act campaign affect your current work for comprehensive immigration reform ?
JA: You know, one thing led to the next. At first we were talking about students and how the current immigration laws were unfair to them, but if we really are talking about fairness how can we forget those who are not students, yet play a key role in the success of those students? Those parents who helped the students financially? If we really talk about comprehensive immigration reform, we have to be fair, regardless of age.
LT: Do you think that the DREAM movement has helped reframe the immigration reform debate , that is, focus it on equality and opportunity?
JA: The DREAM Act movement was a trending point for the immigration reform. It is not surprising that it shifted from “students” to “equality and opportunity.” Equality and opportunities were always the focus, but it took DREAMers to stand up and demonstrate through their stories the lack of basic human rights immigrants have.
LT: Has the DREAM movement helped to humanize immigration in the public eye?
JA: Absolutely, I would say that through the DREAM movement a face and a voice was given to the millions of undocumented immigrants. When DREAMers share their stories about their struggles as an immigrant, people get a new view of immigration. People need to hear these stories in order understand the movement. This is especially true for the younger population that can relate more with us DREAMers.
LT: Immigration reform has gained momentum through wide-ranging coalition building. How have you seen immigrant activists collaborate with other interest groups and social justice movements?
JA: Yes, this happened when we were voting for the Maryland DREAM Act. We did some work with activist groups who were in favor of same-sex marriage. It was a very interesting experience because although we were fighting for two very different reasons, our problem was exactly the same: equality. It was very interesting and insightful to learn about their problems.
LT: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your activism?
JA: My biggest challenge was probably to face people who were against comprehensive immigration reform. It is hard to reply to them because they tend to be very closed-minded people and you don’t want to offend them. They also tend to be a bit aggressive, as if they are trying to prove you wrong. It is a hard topic to talk about, but it should always be carried on with respect from either side of the argument.
LT: What gives you the most hope about the current comprehensive immigration reform campaign?
JA: I have a lot of hope to see immigration reform that takes into account not just the students but the millions of immigrants that work in this country. I have had the chance to work with many immigrants of all ages and I am glad the focus shifted from just students to all undocumented immigrants. It’s the fair thing to do.
LT: What are your plans for the future?
JA: I have plans to get my accounting associates next semester. Then, go to Maryland to finish my accounting bachelors and hopefully sit down for my CPA exam. I would really like to focus my expertise in accounting to help immigrants who are financially unstable; I would also like to help many immigrants plan for their retirement at a young age.
For an interview with Jessica Colotl, another DREAMer, please click here. For an interview with Kristin Ford, Communications Director of Educate MD’s Kids and Press Relations Manager at United We DREAM, please click here.