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Congressional staff jobs provide ‘dreamers’ a leg up to citizenship
Two immigrants have gone from illegal to congressional in a matter of months.
Erika Andiola and Jose M. Quintero gained tentative legal status under President Obama’s non-deportation policy for young adults that took effect in August, and both have been hired to work in district offices for members of Congress.
Coming in the middle of the immigration debate, the hirings are freighted with symbolism about the bargain Mr. Obama and many in Congress want to offer illegal immigrants: come forward, register and be given legal status.
“I wanted to show that it works, and what better way can we show [it] works than to hire one, and to pay them,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, the Illinois Democrat who hired Mr. Quintero. “What does immigration reform look like? It looks like Jose Quintero. He’s got a job, he pays taxes.”
Mr. Quintero and Ms. Andiola were two of the earliest recipients of a 6-month-old Homeland Security program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Under that policy, more than 150,000 illegal immigrants 30 and younger have been approved, granted work permits and told they are no longer in danger of deportation.
The policy helped push Mr. Obama to re-election last year and set the table for this year’s debate on a broad overhaul of immigration laws, including trying to grant a full pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
But the deferred action was a test-run — a chance for legalization supporters to show immigrants the benefits of coming out of the shadow economy and to show voters the kinds of people who would be legalized.
“My hope was that by presenting this wonderful young man to the broader American community, the community says, ‘You know what? I’m not afraid of him,’” Mr. Gutierrez said.
Known as Dream Act children or “Dreamers,” after the never-passed legislation that would have legalized them, they are among the most sympathetic cases in the immigration system. They were brought to the U.S. as children and, in many cases, don’t even remember the countries where they were born.
Ms. Andiola has been one of the most prominent advocates for Dreamers and established a reputation as an organizer.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, hired her last month to be outreach director, acting as liaison with a number of constituencies in her district such as labor, seniors, students, minorities and the environmental community.
The congresswoman said she got to know Ms. Andiola at Arizona State University, where she was a professor and Ms. Andiola was a student who put herself through school without the benefit of taxpayer aid because she was in the country illegally.
“It’s stupid for us as a country to say we’re not going to give you a job and put you to work,” said Ms. Sinema, who as a state lawmaker fought Arizona’s immigration crackdown.
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