The Original 'Dreamer' Comments On Supreme Court's DACA Decision
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
We are going to stay with this top story - the DACA ruling today from the Supreme Court - and bring in the voice of someone with a very personal stake. Tereza Lee, now 37 years old, a music teacher and concert pianist and the original inspiration behind the DREAM Act, the legislative effort to provide legal status to undocumented young people. She joins me now from New York. Hi there - so good to speak with you again.
TEREZA LEE: Thank you so much for having me.
KELLY: Where were you when you heard today's news? What went through your mind?
LEE: Oh, well, I'm at home in New York City and we, the DREAM Act community, the immigrant community, we were thinking for the worst possibility, DACA being rescinded. But what a surprise it was today. And we are celebrating. And although, of course, DACA is not the answer to all, but it's a great day today.
KELLY: Yeah. You are clearly in touch with other DREAMers. I know you advocate on their behalf. I mean, just tell me a little bit more about what the conversation has been like today as the ruling landed and you've been able to absorb it.
LEE: Oh, people are crying. This is about their lives. This is something that it's been tugging at their hearts, and there have been so much anxiety. They've sacrificed so much, including their own deportations, and this means so much that they can continue working in the fields as a teacher, go to school as a student, you know, work as an essential worker. They can drive a car. They can continue to be protected from deportation. I mean, this is amazing news for today. And, yeah, people are thrilled.
KELLY: To give people listening a little bit more of your story, I will share you were brought to the U.S. when you were 2. You and I have spoken before and you told me about the moment when you were 7 years old that you first became aware that you were undocumented. Your dad had gathered the family in the living room. And what did he say?
LEE: Absolutely. When I was 7 years old, my dad gathered us in the living room and he told us he had a big secret to tell us and that we cannot tell anyone outside of our family, and the secret was that we were undocumented. And that meant we didn't have a green card or citizenship. And if we were caught, we could be deported and separated, and I would be sent back to my birth country which was Brazil, my parents to Korea and my little brother, who was born in Chicago, to some foster care in America. And that meant we had sort of like a PTSD. We grew up with nightmares every night with the ICE and police storming up our stairs and separating our family.
KELLY: I mean, I - that moment in the living room was three decades ago, and it sounds like the fear and uncertainty sparked by learning about your status was a part of your childhood and has stayed with you all these years.
LEE: Absolutely. It's been engraved into, you know, our minds, and it's still in my body.
KELLY: Yeah. Today's ruling, which you are welcoming, I know that DACA recipients are celebrating today, it is not a permanent fix. There's still a lot of uncertainty over what is going to happen to hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients. How hopeful are you today?
LEE: You are absolutely right. The DACA is not the answer to all. It's always been fragile. It was a compromise of a compromise. And until there is a real immigration reform for all 11 million undocumented people, DACA is never going to be enough.
LEE: Do you think that has to come from Congress, that that has to be legislation?
LEE: It has to come from Congress. It has to come from the people. Right now, there is a huge majority that supports DACA. And all of those people that support it, we need all of their help in order to get immigration reform passed.
KELLY: I should mention you are now an American citizen by marriage. You are mother to three American children. How will you explain today's ruling to them?
LEE: Wow. I haven't thought of that, but to my kids, I think it is important to talk about the injustices in this world. And it's important for me especially to let my kids understand my history and my parents' history and that their future is not something that - it's not something they can just take for granted.
KELLY: The fight is not won from where you sit.
LEE: I think that we won a battle today, but the war is not over.
KELLY: Tereza Lee, thank you.
LEE: Thank you so much for having me.
KELLY: She is the original inspiration for the DREAM Act, now an American citizen by marriage and an advocate on behalf of DREAMers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.