“I was in college,” says the young community organizer, who asks not to be identified because her father’s immigration case is currently under review. Around her in the orange-walled common room of Dolores Street Community Services, a tired-looking group of people sit at a large particleboard meeting table and talk quietly into their cellphones.
“I wanted to work for WIC,” she continues. “That’s the nutrition program for women and children. I was right about to graduate, and one of my friends said, ‘How do you plan exactly to do that? That’s a federal program.’”
“That’s when reality slaps you in the face — like stupid.” Her parents were cleaning houses and working construction to pay full tuition at the state college she was attending. She was working nights at the VA hospital, where the wages were so miserable that no one looked at her Social Security number too closely. Her family had managed to bring her here from a country where only the elite attended college, but no matter how far she progressed academically in the United States, without citizenship her options to use that education were virtually nonexistent.
And that, she says, is the story of how she ended up here tonight, calling people in Utah and Maine and asking them to call their senators and urge them to support the DREAM Act.
Well, part of the story, anyway.
“Hello?” says the man in the chair next to her. He has close-cropped gray hair, and a serene expression. “I’d like to speak to Nancy Pelosi.”
In addition to calling random people in Utah and Maine, the phone bankers are calling senators to either thank them for supporting the DREAM Act, or to tell them that they really, really should. Nancy Pelosi is due for a thanking.
There is a pause.”Sure,” the man says politely. “I’ll hold.”
The man on the phone goes by the name Brother Tikhon Pethoud. He’s here as part of a group organized by St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. “Our congregation is very diverse,” he says. “And the stories we hear are just heart-wrenching. We’re very for immigration reform — for example, we have a lot of gays and lesbians in our congregation. If one person in a couple doesn’t have citizenship, they don’t have the option of marrying in order to stay together.” He knows three couples who have moved to Canada because of this, he says.
The DREAM Act would potentially grant United States citizenship to 2.2 million out of the estimated 12 million undocumented people living in this country — all young people who choose to go to either a four-year college or the military. If it passes the Senate tomorrow morning, it will be the most significant act of immigration reform since the Reagan-era amnesty of 1986, which granted citizenship to about 2.8 million people.
California residents have called an estimated 18,000 people in Utah, Maine and Alaska, according to the San Francisco Bay Area Coalition for Immigration Reform.
“It’s interesting,” says City College student Steve Li, who recently took the overnight Greyhound back from his own attempted deportation after he was arrested in San Francisco and flown out to a detention center in Arizona. “Many of the people we’re calling don’t know what the DREAM Act is. But once they do know, many are sympathetic.”
“I didn’t even know about this issue,” says Mary Jane Marcus, another one of the volunteers. Marcus has been on a remarkable streak of persuasion all day. Her converts include a woman who told her that there simply aren’t enough jobs in America to be adding extra citizens.
“I told her that these people had no choice,” Marcus says, intently. “That their parents brought them here. I told her, ‘These are quarterbacks and prom queens.’”
“That’s good,” someone says.
“The newborn volunteers are the best,” says the community organizer, smugly.
Marcus shrugs graciously. “I’m good with the gringos. You know what we should really do, though? If only ‘CSI’ would do an episode about this. Like they just did one on hydraulic fracking — that natural gas process. And ‘Real Housewives’ just had a plot about some sodium pentothal expiring on death row. That’s how you educate people about issues.”
The last of the volunteers are beginning to pack up. It’s getting close to dinner time in the heartland, even though it’s still a rainy afternoon in the Mission.
“We’re going to come here tomorrow morning and watch the results,” says the community organizer. “We’ll meet at 6:30 a.m. Bring coffee and bread. We know that no matter what happens, we’ll have made history. In 10 years, this bill has never been voted on once before now. Because we’ve been relentless.”
“Goodbye,” says Pethoud. “You’ll be in my prayers.”
“Thank you so much,” says the organizer. “Faith moves mountains. And we need to move this big-ass mountain right now.”