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Students here illegally rally in hope of living American dream

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / May 26, 2010

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Carlos Savio Oliveira stood in front of the State House yesterday sweating in the hot sun, risking deportation for the chance to ask US Senator Scott Brown to support legislation that could change his life.

Oliveira, 22, a native of Brazil, said he has been in the United States without legal papers since he was 8. The stocky former football player went to high school on Cape Cod and hoped to join the US Navy. But immigrants here illegally are barred from joining the military.

So yesterday, Oliveira and dozens of other members of the Student Immigrant Movement based in Boston rallied at the State House and then marched to Brown’s Boston office to urge him to support bipartisan federal legislation that would let Oliveira and thousands of other youths nationwide apply for legal US residency. The Dream Act would create a path to legal residency for youths who arrived before they turned 16 and have lived here for five years. They would have to complete two years of college or the military, among other requirements to qualify.

“We want the opportunity; that’s it,’’ Oliveira said before he delivered his speech. “We don’t want a handout, just the opportunity to prove ourselves.’’

Yesterday’s rally was timed to coincide with the approaching Memorial Day holiday and to appeal to Brown, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard for nearly three decades.

The Dream Act has been pending since 2001, but the rally underscored the growth of the student movement behind it. In Massachusetts and nationwide, students are intensifying their fight for legal residency, holding rallies and persuading the presidents of Harvard, Brown, Tufts, and other universities to support them.

About 400 unauthorized immigrant students graduate from Massachusetts high schools each year.

Around 11 a.m., students from Lawrence, Boston, Everett, Revere, Chelsea, and Lynn gathered at the State House, carrying handmade signs and waving American flags. Some wore mortar boards or T-shirts that read “Brown is Beautiful,’’ with one set aside as a gift for Brown.

Maria, a 19-year-old from a Boston area high school who did not disclose her last name, said she took Advanced Placement classes in high school, created a Model United Nations club, played soccer, and joined the swim team. She hopes to become an American diplomat some day and plans to attend college on a private scholarship.

But because she has been here without papers from Mexico since she was 10 years old, she will be unable to work legally.

“I hope to make a difference in this world,’’ she said to the crowd.

Oliveira had always been better at working with his hands. In that way, the Navy appealed to him.

But he is the only one in his family without legal papers, a young man with an American accent and broken Portuguese that makes returning to Brazil a daunting prospect. His father married a US citizen, but Oliveira said lawyers told him his father could not help him obtain legal status here.

“I believe in the values this country was founded on,’’ Oliveira told the crowd, his hands shaking.

“I believe in this country, and I believe in protecting it.’’

Opponents of illegal immigration say passing the Dream Act would set a bad precedent, and they urged Brown not to endorse it, saying it would reward families that broke the law.

“We don’t think it’s a good idea,’’ said Joseph Ureneck, cochairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform. “We think it would just encourage illegal immigration.’’

After the speeches, Oliveira carried the US flag on his shoulder and led the march several blocks down the Freedom Trail, to Brown’s office in the federal building next to Boston City Hall.

Oliveira and Renata Teodoro, 22, a Boston resident also here without papers, carried five boxes filled with about 1,500 letters from supporters to Brown’s office on the 24th floor.

Two Brown officials, Lydia Goldblatt and Jack Richard, met them in the lobby of the office.

“It looks like a lot of letters,’’ Richard said, glancing at them wrapped as mock diplomas.

“This is for him, sir, if you’ll give it to him,’’ Oliveira said to Richard.

Teodoro read a letter urging Brown to support the Dream Act, then asked to meet with him so that he could hear their stories.

Richard explained that Brown had met with people on all sides of the issue and that he was in Washington. The senator has said that he would review the act, but has not yet taken a position on it, said Gail Gitcho, his spokeswoman in Washington.

In Boston, Teodoro said they would wait and sat politely on the couch. The four then met behind closed doors for about half an hour and ended without a commitment for a meeting.

As they parted, Brown’s aides accepted a T-shirt from the group, and Oliveira and Teodoro left with the boxes of letters, saying they hoped to deliver them to Brown personally.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com.

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