His parents brought him from Mexico to the United States when he was 3 years old. He doesn’t remember his old home. He doesn’t remember his father being gone for a year. Now 19, the only home Mario Gomez has known is the United States.

dreamactsabbathSen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., backed by religious leaders, takes the podium at a press conference held on Capitol Hill July 12 to announce plans for a DREAM Act Sabbath. It will take place Sept. 23-25, when churches, synagogues and mosques will provide materials and personal stories to promote the legislation. The DREAM Act would allow students brought to the United States as children the chance to legalize their immigration status by attending college or serving in the U.S. military. At right is Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington. (CNS photo/Rafael Crisostomo, Catholic Standard)Like many undocumented immigrants, Gomez has strong feelings about immigration reform, and when he was a junior at Marquette University High School, those emotions surfaced.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) came to MUHS and during his visit, spoke on immigration.

“I felt like he was bashing people who were undocumented,” Gomez said. “I got very emotional about it and just kind of snapped.”

Gomez argued with Sensenbrenner to the point security escorted him away. The school wanted him to apologize for his actions, but he refused and was suspended for a week.

“(Sensenbrenner) coming to school was seriously the equivalent to someone coming dressed in a white cap and gown, burning a cross,” Gomez said. “That’s how I felt.”

This incident ignited Gomez’s deep passion for people and he credits his mother for teaching him that.

“She taught me how to be selfless,” Gomez said. “I’m not an angel by any means but I try to be helpful for other people.”

While in high school, Gomez volunteered at several charities and was the first Latino class president, serving two terms.

At MUHS, he heard about a group called Youth Empowered in the Struggle! (YES!) and attended its “youth summit” at the school.

“I just fell in love with their goals, their agenda, the way they do things, the whole grassroots organizing,” Gomez said. “I just knew I had to be a part of it.”

YES! is the youth group associated with Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin’s leading immigration rights group.

Before joining YES!, Gomez admitted he wasn’t the best student and could’ve tried harder.

“Being undocumented, there’s very little things you get concerned about,” Gomez said. “When you know there’s a possibility that you can come home and your parents might not be there, you don’t try as hard.”

But being involved in YES! has given him the motivation to achieve through higher education. Promoting passage of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is one of the largest campaigns the group has undertaken.

After the incident with Sensenbrenner, Gomez transferred to Pius XI High School, graduated in 2009 and studied a year at Cardinal Stritch University. He couldn’t afford to continue attending so he’s taking the year off to save money in order to start again next year.

The DREAM Act, according to the DREAM Act Portal at www.dreamact.info , allows undocumented students to go to college as long as they came to the country under the age of 15, have been in the U.S. for five years prior to the enactment of the bill, have graduated from a U.S. high school or have a GED or have been accepted into a college/university, and have “good moral character.”

“Under the rigorous provisions of the DREAM Act, qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a six year conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years military service,” the website says.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has long supported the DREAM Act, as well as comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration system.

In a Dec. 2, 2010 letter, then-coadjutor, now Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, called on Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM), calling it “the right thing to do.”

The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the USCCB is urging priests across the nation to “incorporate petitions, prayers and homilies” into Sunday Masses the weekend of Sept. 24-25 in support of passage of the DREAM Act.

Congress has dealt with immigration reform, specifically the DREAM Act, before.

“The DREAM Act has existed in various forms for 10 years, and in this political climate it is unlikely to pass anytime in the near future,” said Jacki Black, MUHS world languages teacher and director of Orgullo Latino.

Black, who has been involved with YES! for five years, said her involvement started with a conversation she had with a student. While conducting “sophomore interviews,” Black asked a student how he was handling school and driver’s ed, and the student told her he wasn’t taking the class because he was undocumented.

Weekend Prayer

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, invites parishes to “Pray for the DREAM” at Masses Sept. 24-25 in support of immigrant students and youth eligible for the DREAM Act.

“The more we talked, the more evident it was that he was under a tremendous amount of strain, living in constant fear of deportation, growing up feeling like he was different from his peers with a secret he could never reveal, and in a serious depression knowing that as his peers were picking out colleges and thinking about their futures, he would have little chance to follow his own dreams,” Black said. “Every year Marquette High graduates students who do not have a Social Security number and have no way to obtain one.”

Gomez said being undocumented has caused him to turn down jobs and other opportunities.

“People don’t honestly know how frustrating it is to be undocumented, to not have the simple things people take for granted,” Gomez said. “The frustrating thing for me is seeing all the times undocumented people get treated as something less than human.”

While his mother was pregnant with their only child born in the United States, Gomez said her employers made her work up until she was eight months pregnant, washing floors, knowing she couldn’t say anything because of her status.

“We’re moving a little bit more toward immigration reform, toward people accepting it, toward people being in favor of immigration reform,” Gomez said.

When asked how he would feel about the DREAM Act being passed he said, “it would mean to world to me.… I know I’m eligible for it.”

Black said that if passed, the DREAM Act would give kids the opportunity to legalize their status if they stay out of trouble and attend college or join the military.

Staunch critics of allowing undocumented students to go to college believe the students should go back to their countries and “do it right,” or “do it legally.”

“The reality of the matter is that this process can take years, even decades, to complete, and furthermore, for many of these kids whose families and friends, schools and lives are in this country, there is no ‘home’ where they were born,” Black said. “They are stuck between two worlds – the one they know and the one they may not even remember.”

Gomez said his friend recently went through the process of obtaining residency, a process that cost him thousands of dollars including a trip to Mexico, application and attorney fees.

“People don’t have that kind of money,” Gomez said. “The average wait for Mexican immigrants is 15 years.”