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BOSTON — On Monday, 26-year-old Tania Unzueta was one of five young immigrant activists staging a sit-in at Sen. John McCain's office in Tuscon, Ariz. They were trying to pressure the senator to take up their cause: the Dream Act.
The bill would offer a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. It would help about one million people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents before they were 16 and have at least two years of college or military service under their belts.
McCain supported the legislation back in 2007, but his support has since cooled.
The sit-in was risky because four of the five immigrants, including Uzueta, are undocumented. Immigration authorities ended up arresting three of the activists, and they now face deportation hearings in their home states.
Unzueta told Here & Now's Robin Young that she left the sit-in before authorities showed up so the group could have a spokesperson on the outside.
"It was a very hard decision for me," Unzueta said. "We had all been getting ready to be arrested, to face deportation, and to leave my friends in the office was a really hard feeling."
Unzueta was just 10 years old when her parents brought her from Mexico to Chicago. She says her dad was offered a job in the States, and, since work was scarce in Mexico, he jumped at the chance.
The only problem was that neither her dad nor the rest of the family had the documents to work and live in the U.S. legally. Now, 20 years later, Unzueta is living with the consequences of that decision.
"Part of the reason why I have been so open about being undocumented is that I really feel strongly that I haven't done anything wrong," Unzueta said. "I am not a criminal. I hate the word illegal, because we are not illegal people, the immigration violation is actually a civil thing, it is not something criminal."
Opponents of the Dream Act say it will only encourage more illegal immigration because people would bring their children to the U.S. to gain a path to citizenship. Part of the act would allow states to charge in-state college tuition to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and critics say that could take seats away from someone who is living in the country legally.
Unzueta doesn't see it that way.
"Part of the disconnect is they see us as this other," said Unzueta. "The immigrant is someone different from their children."
Her goal is to show people that's not the case.
"Honestly, when we were sitting in McCain's office one of the things the policemen said to us, 'Wow! You look just like my children, you look just like the young people we know,' " Unzueta said.
Immigration reform is not on the legislative agenda for now, but Unzueta says she hopes her adopted country will come through for her.
"I really have trust that in the end the United States will do the right thing," Unzueta said.
This program aired on May 20, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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