By Mark Barnes
Last week Samantha Rodriguez experienced something most Americans never dream of doing. On Wednesday, April 10, she gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. The Melba High School senior had been invited by the Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN) on the trip to meet with the Idaho delegation and attend the A10 rally for immigration reform in support of the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) was first introduced in 2001 by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch. The bill would provide a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrant minors who graduate from U.S. High School and go on to join the U.S. military or receive a degree from an institution of higher learning. Working its way for over a decade through the halls of congress the DREAM Act and has recently been heralded by the Obama administration and efforts are underway to get it further along to becoming law.
While the trip only lasted two days, Samantha’s journey to Washington began a month earlier. As part of her senior project at Melba High School, she gave a speech on March 8 at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa at the Immigration Reform Bus Tour. Fernando Mejia, an organizer for ICAN, invited her to go with him and six other Idahoans to Washington D.C. for the A10 rally a month later.
“When they asked me I was so proud of myself. I was amazed at how far I could go with this speech,” said Samantha.
Flying on a plane and leaving Idaho for the first time in her life was a dream for Samantha. Although short, returning just two days later, the experience is one she will not soon forget.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 10, she gave her speech on the floor of the House of Representatives to a collection of congressmen and senators there to hear witnesses speak about immigration reform.
Samantha, the only student speaking from Idaho, told how her parents came into the United States illegally while her mother was five months pregnant with her first child.
“That first child was me,” said Samantha. “It was inspirational because I was only moments away from being born in Mexico and not the United States.”
“Three years later my parents got deported and left me in the U.S. alone with a family friend for a year. Then they eventually came back.” Her parents did return, legally, and are now U.S. citizens.
Samantha also told the stories of three other DREAMERS, children of illegal immigrants raised in this country who are themselves illegal but have never lived anywhere else. Most wish for a path to citizenship.
“It was pretty intense,” she said. “I was nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before, so I just practiced my speech. I could just feel the tension in the room and hoping that everyone could come help support immigration reform and the DREAM Act. I felt my stomach churning but I did not let that stop me.”
Earlier in the day the ICAN group had the opportunity to meet Senator Jim Risch and Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador. They also met with Senator Crapo’s office.
Talking with Senator Risch, Samantha said, “We talked about what he thinks about immigration and what he can do. We didn’t ask him why he was against it. Risch gave us a reasonable explanation as to why immigration reform is taking so long and as to why we should get this to pass. And, why he agrees with some form of immigration reform.”
“With Raul Labrador we were expecting a battle,” she said. “But he was humble. He was calm about it. I don’t know why because before—ICAN visited him a week or so before—they had a battle with him. But he didn’t have a battle with me. Maybe I was a gentle, little high school student. “
When asked about what she wants to pursue in her future, Samantha said, “Honestly, I’ve always wanted to be an illegal immigration lawyer. Doing this has led me to build up my career. I started from the bottom and I’m going to the top little by little. Speaking, getting more information on immigration and the DREAM Act, It’s helping me become more prepared for what I have coming. Being an illegal immigration lawyer.”
She gets a lot of support from her fellow students and teachers who have inundated her with questions about her trip.
“I’ve been telling my story throughout the day, in classes, at lunch,” She said.
“My teachers are the ones I have to thank because they changed this year’s senior project making it something bigger. Without me presenting my senior project, this opportunity would have never happened.”
“I had fun. I had so much fun. I just felt something inside me that I can make it big in life. After this experience I’m pretty sure I can do it, just skyrocket. My parents said to always work hard and if you want it, you can achieve it. I’m pretty sure with me always saying that motto I believe I can do it. I could be an incredible help in making these two issues pass in the United States. I’m hoping I’ll continue on this journey and someday say my speech in front of the president.”