ABC7 News Exclusive: Chicago woman inspired DREAM Act

July 27, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The young music student and undocumented immigrant faced deportation 11 years ago faced deportation.

Now, whenever Senator Durbin talks about his commitment to the DREAM Act, which he wrote and fought for, he talks Tereza Lee.

Lee was attending the Merit School of Music in Chicago and applying to the Manhattan School of Music in New York when her mother told her she was an undocumented immigrant. Her mother called Durbin's office and Durbin immediately began crafting legislation that would later become the DREAM Act.

Lee is now a music doctoral student at the Manhattan School of Music and also a teacher's assistant at the school.

Lee returned to the Merit School of Music Friday for a visit and play for the students. Lee grew up in Albany Park and says life was difficult for her parents .

"We lived in a basement, no furniture, bugs and mice, no heat or hot water," Lee said. "We slept in hammocks and wore coats to keep warm."

Lee says she was forced to learn to play the piano in church and fell in love with it.

When she learned she was undocumented, she realized she would be unable to go to college

"I threw the idea out the window that I could go to college," said Lee. "Because I was undocumented that kind of thing was not possible...We need the DREAM Act because otherwise these students can never contribute to their country."

Durbin says Lee was his inspiration for the DREAM Act.

"She came from a difficult background and is a great pianist," Durbin said, "and her dreams were going to be shattered because she is undocumented. Clearly her situation led to this act."

Last month, President Barack Obama issued a policy directive to halt the deportation of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally.

"I hope President Obama's executive order will lead to the passing of the law that allows them to earn their way to legal status in America," said Durbin.

Married to jazz musician Danny Kirkhum, Lee resides in New York and now is A U.S. citizen .

"I am a proud U.S. citizen. I voted for the first time last month, and i was grinning from ear to ear," said Lee. "Senator Durbin changed my life with the DREAM Act. Passing it will change the lives of millions of other students."

Durbin says, if you are a student who wants to go on to school and you are undocumented, you must come forward and say officially in writing that you are undocumented and adhere to several strict guidelines.

Lee says she will continue speaking out in favor of the DREAM Act passing in Congress.

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