Praying, holding candles and waving signs in support, 20 people had a vigil for Jesus Cruz, 21, outside the school on Old Alabama Road Thursday evening. Cruz came to the country illegally with his mother in 2002, and is now facing deportation back to Mexico.
Cruz, who graduated from Pebblebrook in 2010, said he wants to go to college and study to be an immigration attorney, but can’t afford it because illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for in-state tuition.
“It’s important because I want to be a better person,” he said. “I want to pursue my dream, and, mainly because this is my home. I don’t want to go back to a country I’m not familiar with anymore.”
Dulce Guerrero, a youth organizer with DreamActivist Georgia, said her organization is trying to apply pressure to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use “prosecutorial discretion” with Cruz because he would be eligible for the proposed DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for certain immigrants who attend college or serve in the military and don’t have a criminal record. President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have said that deporting DREAM Act–eligible young people is not a priority, though Congress has never passed the bill.
“It’s kind of like a form of relief,” Guerrero said of prosecutorial discretion. “They’re able to stay in the United States and drive legally.”
Cruz said his deportation ordeal began after he was found driving without a license, a license he can’t get because of his immigration status. He has a deportation hearing scheduled for Monday at federal immigration court in Atlanta.
Guerrero said several things could happen Monday, including deportation or dropping the case against Cruz.
“We’re hoping they will go ahead and clear his case,” she said.
Anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King, founder of the Cobb-based Dustin Inman Society, said that “DREAM Act–eligible” has become an excuse for non-enforcement. Though given a choice, he said he would rather see illegal immigrant parents deported instead of children.
“Does anyone remember that the DREAM Act has failed 10 times in the U.S. Congress and is not the law?” he said. “But if it was, it would obviously be one of the immigration laws that was enforced … I predict that candidate Obama’s office will direct that he be allowed to stay.”
Cruz said he has been living with his sister. He said his mother is in Los Angeles, while he doesn’t know his father’s whereabouts.
While some of those at Thursday’s vigil know Cruz well, others just came to support him.
Angela Flores, 27, of Marietta, said no one should take comfort in cases like Cruz’s.
“Even as citizens, we are all less safe,” she said. “We can’t let immigrants and the children of immigrants be left so vulnerable and taken from the place they call home so easily.”
Other young illegal immigrants have gone to court to try to get the DREAM Act passed. On Tuesday, three people announced they will sue the U.S. Senate for using filibuster rules to block the legislation, despite support from 55 senators.
Cruz said being in the United States has allowed him to have a better life and learn a new language.
“That’s a cool thing,” he said.