by Myra Saturen
November 06, 2013
What is it like to have been brought to the United States as a child, raised here, told that by following the rules and working hard you could achieve your dreams and then discover, at age 18, that you cannot obtain a driver's license, a Social Security card, or apply for a federal or state college scholarship?
This is the situation of millions of young adults. They have never known any other home but that of the United States. And yet, no matter how accomplished, they face roadblocks their peers can barely imagine for one reason: their parents are undocumented immigrants.
The stories of four such young adults, "The Dream is Now!" was shown at Northampton Community College on November 5. The documentary follows four young Dreamers from Chicago, Mesa, Ann Arbor, and Phoenix. For them, what others read about or debate is reality.
Alejandro grew up dreaming of a career in the U.S. military, inspired by his Chicago high school, which modeled itself after the U.S. Marine Corps. He won ribbons for superior cadet and was commissioned a city corps staff commander for all of Chicago. Yet, because he cannot get a driver's license or a Social Security card, he found himself sidelined, congratulating friends at their enlistment ceremony instead of participating himself.
One week before her high school graduation, Erika watched her mother forced onto a bus bound for Mexico after having been arrested at home, handcuffed, chained, and shut behind detention center walls for ten hours. Only through Erika's actions on social and conventional media, was she able to gain her mother's return and a temporary stay.
Ola grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and graduated at the top of her high school class. She wants to go to college and become a surgical oncologist, but cannot afford to because she is ineligible for state or local scholarship aid. Moreover, she and other Dreamers face much higher international-student tuition rather than in-state tuition.
Jose was a top math student, aiming for a career as a mechanical engineer. He was awarded a full college scholarship and graduated summa cum laude. Unlike his classmates, however, he cannot follow his profession for lack of a Social Security card. He is now working as a laborer, confined to hard physical construction work loading wheelbarrows with stucco.
The film demonstrates the loss of talent our country sustains as a result of our immigration laws. Jose's state has a shortage of engineers. The military, to which Alejandro aspires and for which he is highly qualified, find a majority of would-be enlistees failing to meet standards for acceptance. Cancer patients will never benefit from Ola's skills as things now stand.
Immigration law touches NCC too. For example, student Angel Diaz is a Dreamer. She recalls being asked, as an outstanding high school senior at Easton Area High School, what she planned to do after graduation. The daughter of unregistered immigrants, she grew depressed as graduation day approached and her hopes to enter the legal profession slowly fell. "How will I get financial aid so that I can transfer to a 4-year school?" asked the young woman who graduated in the top 10% of her class. "We should not get punished because our parents came here," she said. "We don't know the countries our parents came from. We don't know the language. We and our parents have toiled hard here." She is active with the Organization for Action, a national project with local chapters. Still, as in high school, she cannot know how immigration laws will determine her future.
The Dream Act of 2013, which has bipartisan support, would give conditional permanent residency to Dreamers and allow them to attend college for in-state rather than international -student tuition. The proposed legislation has not, as of November 2013, been passed. Meanwhile, President Obama has announced "deferred action" for two years for students who would be eligible for the Dream Act. Dreamers, who like Diaz have a two-year deferment, stay in anguished limbo.
According to the documentary, Americans' suspicion of immigrants is nothing new. "Chinese, Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants were once the new people others were told to fear. They've become us and they have made us better."
In order to prove that they, too, can make us better, the Dreamers are organizing, lobbying and making their voices heard. To find out how you can participate, visit thedreamisnow.org.
Professor Douglas Heath moderated an audience discussion after the program. The event was sponsored by the Hispanic Caucus, the Forum on Peace, Justice & Conflict Resolution, the Social Work Club, and the Political Science Club.
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