A month ago, the Robles brothers of Palatine were designated for deportation and in danger of being plucked from promising college careers and sent back to their native Mexico as illegal immigrants.
Now, with the support of our U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and the Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center, Carlos and Rafael Robles have won a temporary reprieve from Homeland Security.
"We want them to stay. We want them to be part of the future of this country," Durbin said while speaking alongside the Robles brothers during this month's National Immigrant Justice Center's annual human rights award luncheon. Praising the Robles' outstanding academic and athletic careers at Palatine High School and including them "among the brightest, most successful and hardworking young people in our nation," Durbin said the brothers are the type of immigrants who would benefit from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors bill he sponsors. Commonly called the DREAM Act, the legislation would grant deserving immigrant students who attend college or join the military an opportunity to become lawful residents.
"We didn't know he was going to mention us," says Rafael Robles, 20, who has completed two years at Harper College in Palatine and will study architecture this fall at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Carlos, 21, is a junior at Loyola University and wants to be a teacher.
"We're really, really happy," Rafael Robles says, noting all the work done on their behalf will allow the brothers to get jobs, apply for student loans and continue their education. "The summer got a lot better."
The Robles are using their story to lobby on behalf of the DREAM Act and immigration reform.
"The DREAM Act's purpose is to help introduce quality citizens to a country founded by immigrants," reads a letter Carlos and Rafael Robles wrote last week at Durbin's request.
"Thousands of people like us who want to dedicate our lives for this country are deprived of the means by which to do so," the Robles write. "We are referred to as many things, but lately have achieved the label of 'Dreamers.' Dreamers are students who came to the United States at a young age, who had no say in the decision of immigrating to this country."
The Robles family left their home and upper-middle-class life in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 2004 when Carlos was 14 and Rafael was 13. The family came to the Chicago area on visitor visas that allowed them to be tourists for six months. But the parents got jobs, rented a home in Palatine and set up lives while the brothers excelled in school and sports, winning awards for both.
During their college springs breaks in 2010, the brothers were taking a train to Harvard University to visit a friend, who, like the Robleses had been captain of the Palatine High School tennis team. During a stop in Buffalo, N.Y., U.S. Border Patrol officers conducted a routine search and asked the brothers if they were U.S. citizens.
"We didn't want to lie," Carlos said. They gave their information to the officers, who locked the brothers in a local jail for the weekend and then began the process to deport them.
"When people do meet Rafael and Carlos or hear them speak, this is the best argument as to why they should become full-fledged members of our society and the United States," says Claudia Valenzuela, who has been one of their attorneys through the National Immigrant Justice Center (immigrantjustice.org). "Obviously, the Robles brothers are not the only 'dreamers.' We believe these young men and women deserve to be fully integrated into our society."
Their "deferred" deportation proceeding could be reinstated, and Valenzuela says the Robles will continue to have "this uncertainty looming over their heads" unless the DREAM Act is passed. Durbin plans to read the Robles' letter into the Senate record and use them as an example of why this country needs the DREAM Act, says Christina Angarola, a Durbin spokeswoman.
While voicing their thanks and appreciation for being in this country, the Robleses close their letter to Congress by asking members to "reward the values of hard work and diligence, values that made America the most beautiful and prosperous country in the world."
"These are values we have come to admire and respect in the American people," the brothers conclude. "We will continue to uphold these values until the last of our days -- we hope, eventually, as citizens of the United States, a country we now see as home."