Young Organizers Succeed at Releasing Jorge Steven Acuña

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By Yándary K. Zavala

I attended the #JSA rally in Rockville, Maryland on Wednesday. The rally called attention to the story of Jorge Steven Acuña, a 19-year old Montgomery College student, and his parents, Jorge and Blanca, who were detained by ICE agents last week. The Acuñas came to the U.S. from Colombia over a decade ago and were denied political asylum. Jorge Steven excelled academically and athletically in high school, is one semester away from receiving his degree from Montgomery College (where he holds a 3.5 GPA!) and dreams of going to medical school at Johns Hopkins University. Jorge is the epitome of everything the DREAM Act stands for.

When the family was taken into custody last week, his friends and family, along with students at Montgomery College and other community members, came together to call attention to the case. They called themselves JSA (after Jorge Steven’s initials) and used any means available to them – Facebook, Twitter (hashtag #JSA), video, appeals to elected officials, and a successful online petition – to rally in support of the Acuña Family. They even got the attention of their representatives in congress. Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Senator Ben Cardin, and Senator Barbara Mikulski each sent letters to ICE and federal officials asking them to release the Acuña Family. The Montgomery County Council issued a statement to the same effect.

Their efforts succeeded.

After spending a week in a maximum-security detention center on the Eastern Shore, Jorge, Blanca, and Jorge Steven Acuña were released on Tuesday and granted a one-year stay. At the #JSA rally the next day, Jorge Steven spoke of his family’s experience and the terror they felt. “You're brought to this country by your parents, and all you're willing to do here is get an education, have a dream, set some goals up.” Now that the Acuña Family has been released, JSA has vowed to continue the movement and has rebranded as “Justice for Students in America.”

I was particularly impressed by JSA as it's movement put together by young people, and I believe firmly in the power of young people to make a difference. What the JSA youth were able to accomplish in a matter of days is only a glimpse of what they undoubtedly will accomplish in raising awareness and support for a federal DREAM Act. In a Facebook statement, Jorge Steven said, “If JSA was able to free a family out of jail in four days, JSA is capable of forever defending the youth from injustices... Let the youth make a difference, let the youth have a voice, let #JSA be the difference that everyone has been waiting for. This is our time to make a difference."

JSA-ers, don’t give up. Jorge Steven’s story has brought renewed attention to the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the passage of the DREAM Act, and the momentum you have gained this week will be a positive force in helping this legislation come to fruition. Hard-working students who, like Jorge, are here through no fault of their own, who excel and contribute to their communities should be given the opportunity to give back to the only country they know as home and the chance to remain here legally.

Passing the DREAM Act makes sense for our families, for our economy, and for our nation. If students have the hope of a better future, they are less likely to become statistics – high school dropouts, gang members, criminals, teen pregnancies, substance abusers – and more likely to become productive members of society. If all students have the chance to obtain an education and prepare themselves to provide for their families, their increased income will boost our economy and fewer families will depend on government social services. Passing the DREAM Act, is not only the right thing to do, it’s the sensible thing to do.

I join the DREAMers and #JSA in urging our nation’s leaders to PASS THE DREAM ACT now. Get involved with movements like this by signing up here

Yándary Zavala, a graduate of the University of Utah, grew up in Riverdale, Utah and is pursuing a Master's in Political Management from The George Washington University. She is the Director of Hispanic Outreach for a U.S. Congressional race in Maryland and works on science policy in DC.

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