Rosario (left) and Loida
  • photo by Bob Geary
  • Rosario (left) and Loida

Their names are Loida, Viridiana and Rosario. Three young women, each an honors graduate of a high school in North Carolina, each successful in community college, each ready for college or, in Rosario’s case, finished with college (UNC-CH, BA in biology) and ready for graduate school. Three women who are, instead, on a hunger strike in Raleigh because, after listening to a decade’s worth of national stalemate over immigration reform, they don’t see any alternative. They are, you see, children of illegal immigrant parents. So, even though they’ve grown up in the United States and are here as a result of decisions they had nothing to do with, they too are treated as undocumented aliens and are denied Social Security numbers.

Does that mean they can’t work? Not at all, and they do work, just not at desirable jobs commensurate with their abilities or aspirations. Simple fact, all the “good” jobs require a SSN and a background check. But many employers aren’t so picky, and the federal government isn’t picky either — it won’t issue SSNs, but it will issue federal ID numbers so undocumented folks can work, pay taxes (including Social Security taxes that they’ll never get back) and file tax returns at the end of the year.

Can we be any more cynical than that?

Today was Day 6 of water and sports drinks but no food for the three protesters. They’re encamped on state property behind the old Museum of History (now the Archives building) on the corner of Lane and Wilmington streets. They have a permit to be there through July 1, but say that won’t be the end of it, and they won’t eat until U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan agrees to sponsor legislation known as the Dream Act that would give young people like them a path to citizenship.

The three sounded fine this evening, when I stopped by, and said they feel all right, just tired; but they’re also realizing that, if they don’t watch it, their thinking can get scrambled pretty easily due to physical weakness. They were in good spirits, in fact, and “amazed at the support we’re from the community,” Loida said. Media attention has been slow in coming, but there’s been some—the Daily Tar Heel and the Durham Herald Sun covered them when they visited Chapel Hill on Friday, for example — and they’ve called a press conference on Tuesday.

One other bit of news: They’re planning a candlelight vigil with supporters Monday night at 8. If you come, bring a candle and, if you can, some water for yourself and them.

By the way, all three were willing to give their full names, and in fact their last names were included in articles and blog posts written about them by others. Raleigh Public Record did a good piece on them yesterday and listed their full names, for example. I haven’t used them here because they didn’t volunteer them immediately and said they preferred not to give them, though in the same breath they said I could find them elsewhere. I don’t think they’ll be deported because of what they’re doing, and I don’t think their parents will either — I hope not. And in any event, what I write or don’t write won’t make a bit of difference as far as the authorities are concerned. So I guess my omitting their last names is nothing more than not wanting to be complicit in any way in what I consider to be a totally cynical and corrupt set of immigration laws.

Viridiana (on the phone) and Rosario
  • Viridiana (on the phone) and Loida

One reason the three didn’t volunteer their full names, perhaps, was that while I was there, Loida’s parents were also there, taking a turn at watching over the campsite. Loida’s father, Enrique, didn’t offer his last name either. “I’m not fearful at all,” Enrique offered, speaking for himself and his wife. Looking at his daughter and her two friends, he added, “We do it for them.” At that, Loida laughed. “They do it for us, and we do it for them,” she said.

Loida, at 22, is the youngest of the three women and the one who’s lived in the U.S. the shortest time — nine years. Her parents brought her from Peru when they came, Enrique said, on a tourist visa. The parents did apply for permanent residence status, he added, but they made some mistakes on their application and were turned down. He works in construction and as a volunteer pastor in an Evangelical Christian church in Alamance County. Loida graduated from East Forsyth HS, National Honor Society, Advanced Placement courses, track team, color guard, youth leader — she ticked off a list of accomplishment off-handedly, as if they didn’t really matter because, well, they haven’t mattered to anybody since — and she completed two years of coursework in community colleges. But when it came time to transfer to a UNC system school to finish her undergraduate work, as any “legal” resident with her record would’ve been allowed to do, she found she couldn’t except by paying out-of-state tuition rates she couldn’t afford.

Five years later, and in some desperation, she plans to enroll at UNC-Asheville and take one course at a time. “It will cost about $3,000 to take one course, and I’ll work and save for the next course, and be in school forever. That’s why I’m here,” she said. “It’s not fair. We all just want to contribute and give back, and we can’t because we don’t have a 9-digit [Social Security] number.”

If her situation is appalling, Rosario’s is just as bad or worse.

She’s 25, an honors graduate of Southern High School in Durham and of Alamance Community College. This is someone who, when her parents brought her to the U.S. at age 13, spoke no English at all. Needless to say, she had trouble in school, but not in math and not in science either — she got “A” grades in both by mastering the symbols, she said. After Alamance, she transferred to UNC-CH and graduated with a degree in biology two years ago. She did pay out-of-state tuition rates with the help of a “sponsor” who wanted to be anonymous. Now, she’d like to continue in graduate school and support herself, as most such students do, by working in a lab. But without an SSN, she can’t get past the background checks. So she’s forced to settle for menial jobs. “I want to continue studying and earn my doctorate,” she said. “I know it seems impossible, but I’m fighting for it.”

Viridiana, who is 23, has been in the U.S. since she was seven. She is a Lee County High School graduate “with honors, drum major in the marching band,” and was accepted at N.C. State but then not allowed to enroll without a proper student visa. She went to community college instead but says it’s been hard to maintain her motivation given that the Dream Act has been around since 2001 and seems to be going nowhere. Recently, her sister graduated high school with an even better GPA than she did, Viridiana said, only to find that even the community colleges wouldn’t take her. “So those of us who have the push to make it, and want to make it, what do we do?” Viridiana asked. “Without the Dream Act, what do we do?”

The Dream Act was well-explained the other day by Jeff Shaw on the Progressive Pulse blog:

Over three million students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Most get the chance to pursue opportunity. However, a group of approximately 65,000 youth have their options constrained due to undocumented status.

These youth — like the three women on a hunger strike now — have lived in the United States for most of their lives. They want more than anything to be recognized as Americans, and to help build a better future for everyone here….

The DREAM Act — which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — would recognize that commitment. The law has four strict requirements. A person must have entered the country before the age of 16; graduated high school or obtained a GED; have good moral character with no criminal record; and have at least five years of continuous presence in the U.S.

If someone meets those criteria, the DREAM Act would provide a six years window for them to either obtain a two-year college degree or complete two-years of military service. If all of these conditions are met, the person would have the opportunity to adjust their conditional permanent residency status to U.S. Citizenship.

As Shaw said, If we want to build a stronger America, we want Americans who have a commitment to education and public service.
Rosario, Loida and Viridiana already have those qualities. The DREAM Act would just give them a well-deserved path to citizenship.”