Young Immigrant Activists Cast a Wider Net

Julia Preston, New York Times, December 2, 2012

After a boisterous three-day congress here, more than 600 leaders of a national movement of young immigrants living in the country without legal papers voted to expand beyond their past demands for citizenship for young people, and to mobilize in support of a bill to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

The leaders of the United We Dream network, the largest organization of youths here illegally, decided to push President Obama and Congress next year for legislation to open a path to citizenship for them and their families. The move will increase pressure on Mr. Obama and lawmakers to pass a comprehensive overhaul, rather than taking on the debate over immigration in smaller pieces to try to gain more support among Republicans.

The network’s platform calling for an “inclusive pathway to citizenship,” which the leaders adopted unanimously in a vote on Sunday morning, is likely to have a large influence on the debate Mr. Obama said he planned to kick off soon after his inauguration in January. {snip}

They take their name from the Dream Act, a bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for young people, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle view as having a better chance than broader legalization measures. {snip}

But the youths opted to fight for broader gains, concluding that events were working in their favor after the Nov. 6 election, when Latino voters turned out in large numbers, overwhelmingly in favor of Mr. Obama.

{snip}

Although most of the young people who attended the conference do not have legal papers, it was a sign of their new confidence that the network held its congress in the convention center downtown, in a conservative state [in Kansas City, Missouri] where most voters oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In June, Mr. Obama announced two-year reprieves from deportation and work permits for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, an initiative that they saw as a victory for their protests over the past two years. Some participants here already had their reprieve documents.

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On Sunday, six immigrant parents, also here illegally, joined a “coming out” ceremony where they spoke in public for the first time, as many youths have done in recent protests.

{snip}

Network leaders said the election results, in which Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Latino vote, give them new influence with both parties, but particularly with Republicans.

“The Republican Party alienated Latino voters in ways they hadn’t done before,” said Lorella Praeli, a leader of the United We Dream organization. “Our leverage is that our community is growing,” Ms. Praeli said. She suggested that young immigrants ask Republicans: “Do you want your party to see the inside of the White House again?”

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