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Undocumented California grads risk deportation

Dream Act activists from California
Dream Act activists from California
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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Hundreds of undocumented students are risking deportation by committing civil disobedience for the immigration reform bill known as the Dream Act. One California protester demonstrated Tuesday outside the office of Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.

Along with fellow protesters, Laura Lopez wants the U.S. Senate Majority Leader to schedule a vote on the Dream Act. That measure would grant legal residency to undocumented students who graduate from high school.

Lopez knows she risks deportation by announcing she’s undocumented and getting arrested. She says, "we have spoken with our action that this is so urgent that we are willing to do what it takes."

Lopez comes from a family of seven. Four are citizens, two are legal residents. She’s the only one who’s undocumented. Lopez — a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz — wants to be a lawyer. Right now she works as a waitress at her parents’ restaurant.

Democrats want to include the Dream Act in a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But the Senate has a climate change bill and a Supreme Court nomination to tackle before it recesses this fall for the mid-term elections.

The students want Congress to pass the Dream Act. That bill would grant legal residency to undocumented high school graduates. UC Santa Cruz graduate Laura Lopez was one of the young people arrested in Washington.

"I graduated from high school with great grades. I did my community service, the extra-curricular activities. I paid my dues to get into higher education. Paid my dues within higher education to get my degree so why can I not work when I am able to work and willing to work," Lopez said.

A UC Irvine graduate who has been living in the United States illegally for more than 20 years was also arrested in Washington, D.C., with a group of young people demonstrating in favor of a bill that would grant them legal status, it was reported today.

Antonia Rivera, 28, was one of a dozen people taken into custody on Tuesday afternoon after they sat in a circle in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, the Orange County Register reported.

Rivera would benefit from the Dream Act. She was brought to this country by her parents from Mexico when she was six years old. In 2006, she graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in literary journalism, but she said she was unable to work because she has no documents.

The 12 protesters were wearing graduation caps and gowns. Earlier in the day, several hundred activists had staged a mock graduation ceremony at a nearby church to demonstrate the fact that despite having finished college they could not work in their chosen fields of study.

The undocumented students could be deported, though federal authorities have not made that move yet.

Undocumented students have also begun a hunger strike in front of US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s West Los Angeles office.

California Senator Feinstein is a cosponsor of the Dream Act. A spokesman in her office says “protesters need to think of the bigger picture and target their energy more productively, perhaps by focusing on leaders who oppose immigration reform.”

A Capitol Hill Police spokesperson said she could say whether Rivera and the other protesters – all of whom witnesses said were undocumented – would be turned over to federal immigration officials. The offense for which they were arrested is a misdemeanor, and, typically, people are released the same day. 

KPCC's Kitty Felde contributed audio to this report.