By Justin Valas

One of the most powerful tools we have is our ability to share our stories, our reality. Those unfamiliar with the actual reality of our situations can easily retreat into misconceived notions of who we are and what the DREAM Act means to us. That is, of course, until they hear our stories. We’ve also learned that, unfortunately, Senator Hagan is not the only elected official uninformed of the reality of our situation.

During our trip to Washington, DC in July,  we were privileged to meet another courageous DREAMer from just north of us. That DREAMer, Isabel Castillo, recently addressed Virginia’s Governor McDonnell concerning the DREAM Act. Here’s a video of that exchange.

Isabel gained a huge applause at the end of her initial statement. She graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA (something the Governer snarkily commented he was only able to achieve if you added GPA points 2.0 here, 2.0 there). She graduated from college Magna Cum Laude in only 3.5 years. She stood in a room filled with people and told the Governor of her state that she is undocumented. I think we can all see why she deserved a hearty round of applause.

Governor McDonnell went on to praise her for her impressive achievements, stating that she had not taken for granted the possibilities that so many US Citizens fail to pursue. Not once, but TWICE he spoke the truth in proclaiming her to be an “exceptional young lady” and went on to lament that she is an “exceptional case.” She is definitely exceptional, but with so many high-achieving DREAMers, can it really be said that a highly achieving, undocumented youth is an exception rather than the norm?

He falls back into talking points, all too familiar to many of us working on the DREAM Act. “The border isn’t secure”—False (or perhaps it’s so insecure that area residents are unaware that they should feel insecure?). “There are unfilled jobs here that should be given to people here”- DREAMers, like Isabel, are educated young people who are here and could be filling those jobs and creating others.

In Isabel’s words: “let’s be realistic here.” DREAMers are here. They are high achievers. They are committed, motivated, hard workers, and valuable assets to their communities. Isabel, like other DREAMers, wants to contribute to her community, to the state she calls home. In the words of Governor McDonnell: “we need more people like her.” You said it, Governor- we do need more people like Isabel and our fellow DREAMers.

Thanks to Isabel for her courage and determination—you are an inspiration.