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Governor McDonnell nodded as Isabel Castillo told him how she’d come to the United States at age 6, earned a 4.0 GPA in high school and graduated magna cum laude from Eastern Mennonite University in 2009.
Then, her voice cracking with emotion as she spoke at a town hall meeting the governor hosted at JMU, Castillo surprised the crowd of several hundred into momentary silence when she said, “But I’m undocumented.”
Castillo asked McDonnell to support the DREAM Act – a bill now before Congress that would provide a path to legal status in the U.S. to certain high school graduates who entered the country illegally as minors.
“First off, I want to applaud you for your outstanding achievements,” said McDonnell, who held the Thursday night meeting to discuss his plans to restructure government and boost the economy. “[But] here’s the issue – the federal government has done a lousy job [addressing immigration] … I’m the governor of Virginia, and I have very little authority to enforce federal law.”
McDonnell said the federal government needs to do a better job of enforcing existing immigration law, and should reconsider certain policies that don’t match economic realities in the United States.
“What I can’t do, and what we can’t do as Americans, is turn a blind eye and not enforce the law,” McDonnell continued.
Both Castillo’s initial plea, and the governor’s response, were met with loud applause by different members of an audience clearly divided over the topic.
Several times, Castillo directly asked the governor whether he would support the DREAM Act.
“I can’t, because what that does is to look the other way,” McDonnell said, after Castillo repeatedly questioned him.
“Why not give us the opportunity to give back [to our communities]?” Castillo responded. “This is home to me. I’m an American.”
Castillo made local headlines earlier in the summer, when she was arrested in Washington, D.C. during a demonstration in support of the DREAM Act.
Before the town hall meeting, she and about 10 other DREAM Act supporters convened a “DREAM University” outside JMU’s Festival Conference and Student Center – an event that included classes on the legislation, a discussion of racism, and a zumba class.