Living the American Dream: Karina Velasco

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By Janet Hernandez, Senior Civic Engagement Project Manager, NCLR

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Karina outside the U.S. Capitol during the recent National Latino Advocacy Days.

The most recent snow storm to hit the Washington, DC, area could not stop Karina Velasco, a 25-year-old DACA recipient, from meeting with her congressional representatives and advocating for administrative relief. Since congressional offices were closed during National Latino Advocacy Days, Karina rescheduled her meetings to ensure Congress heard her story.

Her persistence comes from years of advocating for an opportunity to experience the American dream. Throughout her life Karina witnessed her parents’ struggle, perseverance, and hard work. Her mother cleaned restaurants and houses while also being a full-time mother. Her father held two jobs in construction and housekeeping to make ends meet. Their encouragement and daily sacrifices helped Karina make the choice to focus on her education.

“My mother always told me that education was the path to success, so I decided to become a social worker to advocate for those in need,” said Karina.

In 2012 she celebrated the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announcement, and gathered the paperwork needed to apply. She also helped fill out hundreds of applications for other DREAMers who were eligible to apply for DACA. Since Karina received DACA, she has obtained a driver’s license, finished community college, transferred to a four-year university, and obtained a job. Having the job allows her to enter the workforce, pay taxes, and help others.

“Without DACA it would have been harder to accomplish this success. I can finally contribute to my country’s economy and lift some of my parents’ economic burdens,” said Karina.

This week, Karina met with her elected officials to highlight how well DACA works by demonstrating that she is an example of the program’s success.

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Karina (left), Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Rosa, program manager for NCLR Affiliate Latin American Youth Center

Like Karina, there are millions of other young Americans who need Congress to stand up for administrative relief rather than deny them the opportunity to contribute to the country and pursue the American dream.

Washington Plays Host to Escalera National Summit

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Attendees and staff at the 2015 Escalera National Summit

Students who participate in our Escalera Program had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC recently for the Escalera National Summit. The program was held in conjunction with NCLR’s National Latino Advocacy Days. 

Despite some bad weather, summit participants enjoyed a productive week that included an active presence at the Advocacy Days’ legislative meetings, a Lideres Congreso and a screening of the movie “Selma”. Students also participated in guided tours of the nation’s most important monuments and a Summit celebration hosted by our DC Affiliate, the Latin American Youth Center. The week was capped off by a recognition ceremony for all the attendees in which students received certificates of completion and a lapel pin. We are especially thankful to LAYC for all their support in making the summit a success.

Below are some highlights from this year’s event.

Escalera summit attendees at the MLK Memorial

Escalera summit attendees at the MLK Memorial

DACA Recipients Share Their Stories at 2015 National Latino Advocacy Days

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By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR 

At the recent 2015 NCLR National Latino Advocacy Days, groups representing communities in 24 states and the District of Columbia engaged in sessions on public policy, advocacy, and strategy to prepare for the implementation of administrative relief through Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

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One of the exciting outcomes of Advocacy Days was the opportunity to connect with DACA recipients who made the trip to Washington, DC, ready to share their stories and advocate for administrative relief and immigration reform. We heard how DACA has allowed these individuals to continue pursuing an education and volunteering or working with NCLR Affiliates. DACA enabled them to pursue their aspirations, and they want to make sure that others can benefit too.

Last Wednesday’s session began with remarks from Samantha, a youth coordinator for NCLR Affiliate TODEC Legal Center in Perris, California. Samantha received DACA in 2012. She has been volunteering with TODEC for more than five years and continues to advocate for her community through TODEC. Another Affiliate, the Latin American Community Center in Delaware, who has participated in Advocacy Days for many years, included in its delegation Maria, a DACA recipient. Maria shared her story with legislators about how DACA enabled her to continue her contributions in Delaware, where she works with survivors of domestic violence.

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Later in the day we heard from Andrea, a high school student in Chicago who is part of the NCLR Escalera Program run by Affiliate Instituto del Progreso Latino. When Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, joined us, Andrea asked him what he envisions for DACA recipients like her in the future. Mayorkas responded that in addition to ensuring that the administration is doing everything it can to aggressively push for the expansion of DACA and implementation of DAPA, he expects that each year approximately 90,000 people will become eligible to apply for DACA and receive a reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

Samantha, Maria, and Andrea are just a few examples how DACA recipients are woven into the fabric of the NCLR familia by contributing to their communities through NCLR Affiliates.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending March 6

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Week Ending March 6

This week in immigration reform: Nearly 300 community leaders participated in National Latino Advocacy Days,Congress funds the Department of Homeland Security; and NCLR continues a new blog series highlighting the impact of administrative relief.

Braving the weather, hundreds attend National Latino Advocacy Days: This Wednesday, nearly 300 Latino leaders from across the country participated in a day-long event promoting advocacy for Latino priorities. Attendees represented 24 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Check out tweets and photos from the event on Twitter with #NLAD15. Also, take a look at NCLR’s Facebook photo album on why Latinos vote.

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Latino Advocacy Days followed the NCLR Capital Awards where NCLR recognized the work of Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and honored longtime immigration reform advocate, Frank Sharry. During her remarks, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía warned the Republican Party about the political consequences of their rhetoric and policies that are adversely affecting not only the Latino community, but the entire nation’s best interests. You can see Janet’s speechhere.

Congress passes DHS funding bill without harmful immigration amendments: This week the House of Representatives passed a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of this fiscal year. This was after much political maneuvering and uncertainty. House Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the version of the bill that passed in the Senate, one that removed the harmful language defunding President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. NCLR applauds the passage of a clean DHS funding bill.

Also this week, House Republicans found time for a two-day markup of four-immigration related bills. These bills would promote a national racial profiling protocol, take an ineffective enforcement-only approach to fixing our immigration system, and would deny due process to some of the most vulnerable immigrants: child refugees. In a statement, NCLR’s Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro said “These bills are a conscious, premeditated attack against millions of American families and a direct blow at the heart of the Latino community. They are representative of the backward thinking that has replaced a solution-driven approach to immigration in Washington, and they show a disregard for the civil rights of all Americans.”

Second installment of our blog profiling deferred action success stories: This week’s “Living the American DREAM” blog post features Steven Arteaga Rodriguez, a 19-year-old from Houston and a DACA recipient who was brought to the United States when he was four months old. Steven got the chance to meet with President Obama to discuss how his executive actions have impacted the lives of immigrants and their families. DACA enabled Steven to search for work without fear of deportation. To continue the success of deferred action programs, Steven urged his fellow DREAMers to apply, saying “If we don’t apply, we don’t take this opportunity, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We’ve gotten this far, and it wouldn’t be fair for all those DREAMers that fought if, you know, not everybody applied.”

Latino Leaders Denounce Pursuit of Anti-Immigrant Agenda at 2015 National Latino Advocacy Days

More than 300 Latino leaders from throughout the country participated in the 2015 NCLR National Latino Advocacy Days (NLAD) this week. Leaders from our national Affiliate Network of community-based organizations and the youth Líderes Congreso joined together to denounce the continued pursuit of an anti-immigrant agenda and attacks on President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration.

Communities in 24 states and the District of Columbia were represented including California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. They engaged in sessions on public policy, advocacy and strategy to prepare for the implementation of administrative relief through Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Many advocates also met with congressional offices to deliver a statement urging Congress to cease the obstruction of measures aimed at providing relief for millions of hardworking American families.

We also asked NLAD attendees to tell us why they voted. Here’s what they told us: (Click play to view slide show)

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 Below are more social media highlights from this annual event.