Several young adults waved a banner over Interstate 44 on the city's south side Thursday, part of a national push on behalf of young illegal immigrants.
Though the rally showing was meager, those involved enthusiastically gave thumbs up and cheered as hundreds of vehicles passed beneath the bridge spanning the highway near SW 29.
Participants in seven other states and in Tulsa launched a campaign calling on the president to give relief to immigrant youths who would qualify under the Dream Act, a bill stalled in Congress that would provide a path to citizenship for qualifying illegal immigrants who graduate from a U.S. high school and attend college or serve in the military.
Passers-by honked horns. Some flipped their middle fingers at the group.
“There's not many people here today,” said Judith Huerta, a recent Oklahoma City University graduate. “But we're getting somewhere, even if they're just honking.”
‘Part of the fabric'
Opponents of the Dream Act say providing undocumented students with a pathway to citizenship or making it easier for them to attend college infringes on citizens' opportunities and acts as an incentive for people to overstay their visas or to enter the country without authorization.
Fredy Valencia, another member in the rally group, disagreed. He said the incentive to come here is largely economic.
“This is about the people who are already here, who've lived here, and are a part of the fabric here,” Valencia said.
A student at OSU-OKC, Valencia said he was told by high school counselors to drop out of school because going on to college would be difficult and finding a job nearly impossible due to his immigration status.
Valencia was brought to the country with his family nearly a decade ago.
“We have to go against that kind of thinking,” he said. “It's ridiculous and goes against the principles we have in this country about education.”
Valencia graduated high school with honors.
Benefit of country
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools annually.
Oklahoma City University student Victoria Silva said she was on the bridge to support her brother and families of mixed statuses like hers.
“It only benefits the country to have people educated and entering careers,” she said.
Every year, about 1.3 million students drop out of high school, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. More than half of those dropouts are from minority groups. The dropouts from 2010 class alone will cost states $337 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes.
Silva said limiting the opportunities and options of young people discourages them and disaffects students from dreaming about their goals and working to achieve them.
“This isn't just about going to school,” she said. “This is something that would help the entire country.”