by Jennifer Patino–
While in detention at Butler County Jail in Ohio, Yanelli Hernandez attempted suicide twice.
Instead of being released while her case was pending, she was detained for nine grueling months, which kept her from receiving the comprehensive treatment and family support that she so desperately needed.
Joaquin Luna, a student who would have benefited if the DREAM Act was passed, took his own life last November. Hernandez’s situation, similar to that of Luna’s, sparked an outcry from immigrant rights activists who launched a campaign on her behalf.
They even started a campaign to reach out to undocumented immigrants who are facing mental health challenges.
“For ten years we have been forced to wait for the Dream Act, and as a result, we have lost many Dream Act students to suicide,” Mohammad Abdollahi, a co-founder of DreamActivist.org said in a message to supporters.
Despite four thousand telephone calls to ICE Director John Morton and seven thousand signatures on a petition asking that she be allowed to remain with her family, Yanelli Hernandez is now alone in Mexico.
While the Obama administration is working on reducing the wait time for families separated while applying for residency by a harsh ten-year penalty for immigration violations, this does nothing to help those who don’t already have a path to citizenship.
It does even less to address the medical needs of those in detention who, like Hernandez, are not free to seek help from their doctors and families when they need it most.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, hoping to woo the Latino vote before the Florida primary, expressed support for a stripped version of the DREAM Act that restricts the path to citizenship to those who join the armed forces.
Aside from being completely unnecessary since military service is already a path to citizenship, this militarized DREAM Act could send a dangerous message to at-risk immigrants that they won’t matter until they’ve put themselves in harm’s way.
For a decade now, the DREAM Act has been used as a tool to galvanize the Latino voting block. One begins to wonder whether there is anything that could take its place as a campaign issue if the legislation were to ever pass.
For far too long now, we’ve been talking about the big dreams that these bright young men and women have for their future and how we could benefit from them as a country. But that’s all we’ve done—talk. Especially around election time.
And what does Yanelli Hernandez dream of now?
“I hope that one day I’ll be able to be with all of you again,” she wrote to her mother while awaiting deportation.
Politicians can’t keep using these young people’s fragile hopes as campaign strategies without having it exact a terrible toll.
After Hernandez was deported, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance created Undocuhealth.org to help immigrants like her who, disheartened by their challenges, have contemplated taking drastic action.
Stories like those of Joaquin Luna and Yanelli Hernandez show that the time for talking, dreaming, and talking about dreaming is definitely over.
What we need is for both parties to come together and enact comprehensive immigration reform to help those who are struggling—both in our detention centers and in the shadows.