Activists fight to fulfill their DREAM

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IN THE PHILADELPHIA area, Fernanda Marroquin, 22, an undocumented immigrant from Peru, has become the face of the youth movement fighting for the legalization and humane treatment of illegal immigrants.

As an organizer for DreamActivist Pennsylvania, she sees the struggle as being far broader than pushing for a single piece of legislation, like a federal DREAM Act, which she agrees is not going anywhere in this election year.

"We realize we have to fight for all immigrants. The fact that families are being separated on a daily basis is ridiculous," she says.

Marroquin's older sister, Maria, first came out publicly and declared herself as undocumented at rallies in Philadelphia two years ago. Since Maria moved to the Chicago area to attend Dominican University, Fernanda has become more outspoken here.

A Philly immigration lawyer, Dave Bennion, has been by their side, advising them and other undocumented youths. He's taken up the immigrant-rights cause so seriously that in October, he quit his job at the nonprofit Nationalities Service Center so he could focus more on advocacy.

On Nov. 15, Fernanda and her younger brother, Cesar, 21, were arrested at the Alabama State Capitol as part of civil-disobedience protests of HB 56, the nation's strictest anti-illegal-immigration law.

She was held in a jail cell for two days with another female protester. "A lot of the African-American cops would tell us how brave we were," she says.

Besides fighting for individuals who it believes should not be deported, DreamActivist PA will also be watching the Pennsylvania Legislature this year, organizing against anti-illegal-immigration bills put forward by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, and his conservative colleagues.

Her group will help push for the Pennsylvania DREAM Act, sponsored by state Rep. Tony Payton, D-Phila., which would allow undocumented immigrants brought here as children to pay instate college tuition rates rather than higher, out-of-state rates. Payton said in a recent interview that his bill, introduced in June, "hasn't gotten so much as a promise of a hearing."

Bennion, 33, who grew up in Utah, attributes his having lived abroad, his human-rights studies at New York University's law school and his culturally Mormon background (he's had friends who went on international missions) as factors that drew him to social-justice issues.

He likens the immigrant-rights fight to past historic struggles, but doesn't want to make any direct analogies because each cause is different. But, he says, one "can look at any politically oppressive struggle - for African-American rights, women's issues" and see similarities.