NEW YORK (AP) — First lady Jill Biden on Thursday told young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children that she feels “inspired” by them because they didn’t just receive a college education, they “fought for it.”
“Your journey from this day forward will be both heartbreaking and hopeful, bruised and beautiful. But you already know that the inner strength that got you here will serve you well,” the first lady said during a virtual commencement ceremony.
Jill Biden, an English and writing teacher at Northern Virginia Community College, delivered the keynote speech at a ceremony organized by TheDream.US, a scholarship providing organization for young immigrants often described as “dreamers.”
Her speech took place nearly a week after president Joe Biden met in the Oval Office with six young immigrants who benefited from an Obama-era program that protected those brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Biden held the meeting as part of his efforts toward overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.
The president has renewed his call for Congress to codify the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
The U.S. House recently passed a bill that would provide ways to obtain permanent legal status for DACA recipients, as well as other immigrants in the country under temporary programs protecting them from deportation. There are, however, few signs of progress on Capitol Hill, as Republicans have launched political fusillades over problems at the U.S.-Mexico border, especially unaccompanied minor children.
More than 1,000 “dreamers” who benefited from scholarships provided by the TheDream.US and who are expected to graduate this academic year from 77 colleges and online were invited to Thursday’s ceremony.
“We know you have so much to contribute to this nation in the days ahead. That’s why the president is working to build an immigration policy that creates better pathways to citizenship for students like you,” said Mrs. Biden.
The first lady explained that many of her students are immigrants, refugees and “dreamers.”
“They’ve shared with me their journeys and their challenges, experiences that I’m guessing will sound familiar to a lot of you. Leaving loved ones behind, learning a new language, experiencing violence, enduring poverty, living in fear of being forced to return to countries they’ve never known,” she said. “I’m inspired because they arrive in my class filled with optimism and hope.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in March that his agency was issuing a rule to “preserve and fortify DACA,” but the policy faces a Texas court challenge that could invalidate the protections established under Obama.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants currently benefit from DACA in the U.S.
Kevin Ortiz, a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. at 12 years old, was one of the speakers on Thursday’s ceremony. He graduated from the University of Central Florida and now works in leadership development in the financial services industry.
“Winds of change are blowing,” he said. “The world needs your perspective, your leadership. So lead.”