Time Magazine has released its candidates for Time's Person of the Year 2012. One candidate is not a person, but the 11.2 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

Here is my story as to why illegal immigrants deserve to be Time's Person of the Year, and much more.

We say America is the land of opportunity. We say it is a meritocracy, where all people have an equal starting point, and where anyone, if they work hard enough, can achieve their dreams. But if this is true, then why, after high school, are some students able to go on and succeed, while others are trapped with few options?

I was born into a white, upper-middle class family, in an affluent suburb in the East Bay.

Growing up, I have had myriad opportunities available to me simply because of my nationality, my class and the color of my skin. I have had access to really good schools, the ability to attend a UC school and the feeling that I can truly can accomplish my dreams.

Around the same time I was born, my friend Francisco was born into a working-class family in Jalisco, Mexico. He came to the U.S. at 14 to create opportunities for himself, graduating from a local high school and working multiple jobs to provide for his family. But unlike me, Francisco was never able to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor, hindered by his lack of legal documents and the high cost of pursuing an education. He instead worked daily double shifts at a local restaurant.


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Francisco's story is not uncommon. Of the 400,000 children who live illegally in California, and the 25,000 students who graduate from California high schools as illegal immigrants each year, only one out of 20 goes on to attend college. Because of the barriers they face, no matter how hard they've worked and what schools they were admitted to, many bright, hardworking youths cannot achieve their potential.

Dreamers like Francisco came into the land of opportunity and seized that opportunity, studying to become teachers, doctors and lawyers and succeeding above all odds. These Dreamers are living the real American dream, and yet because of one simple paper, they are blocked from achieving their dreams.

In June, President Barack Obama honored the importance of these youths and the lack of options they have by signing into effect Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals. DACA gives a way for illegal immigrant youths to live and work legally in the U.S. for two years.

Youths such as Francisco cried tears of joy and relief to know that they finally had options for success. But DACA is a temporary, discretionary program that could be revoked at any time. And there is no direct path from deferred action to lawful permanent residence or citizenship.

If America is truly the land of equal opportunity, it is time for us to provide real options for dreamers. Show your support for the pursuit of the American dream by advocating for pathways to legal permanent residency and citizenship for dreamers, and by voting for illegal immigrants to be Time's Person of the Year at www.time.com before Dec. 12.

Jenna Carlsson is a community advocate. She lives in Berkeley.