EL PASO, Texas — Many of the 65,000 illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in the U.S. every year live under the entrapment radar, risking deportation at any time as they attempt to attend college or serve in the U.S. military services.
According to statistics from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), most of these students in all grade levels have been raised in America, in American public school systems, American cities. Many only speak English and the American culture is what they know. They have little left of their culture of origin.
“It’s a very sad experience to forget where you came from because you’re accustomed to life here. You could hardly remember that you came here from another country,” said a student who wishes to remain anonymous. The student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is an illegal immigrant because, like the thousands of illegal high school students who graduate every year in the U.S., this student was not brought to America by choice. The parents made that choice.
“It’s a difficult situation. I don’t feel like I came from my country of origin. I feel American and that’s who I am now. Even if people say I am not American, I’m just like them. I speak their language. I act like them. I dress like them. I watch the same shows as them… I might not have the papers but I’m American,” said the same student at a Rock the Dream event Wednesday in support of the Dream Act.
The purpose of the event hosted by the UTEP LULAC chapter was to gather signed letters in support of the Dream Act addressed to Texas state senators. The event hosted live music from Key Lime Pie and Red City Blues as well as keynote speaker El Paso representative Marisa Marquez of the 77th district who supports the bill.
“These are hundreds of thousands of children in our country. Cheerleaders on a cheerleading squad, members of a high school football team, students who work hard and play by the rules, students like yourselves,” echoed Marquez’ voice over the speakers to a crowd of about 100 students.
“The fundamental premise of the Dream Act is to not punish the children for the parent’s actions. That’s not what this nation is about,” said Marquez.
When asked to detail the message she wants legislators to hear, Marquez said, “I would remind them of the history of our nation. All of us are immigrants here. All of us have come seeking an opportunity and to deny those who are committed to contributing to our society in positive ways, by getting an education and continuing to work here and build their families here is to deny our history.”
Humerto Cruz, a Senior Political Science major and the Vice President of the LULAC chapter at UTEP, who was in charge of the event, says that Rock the Dream was not just to promote the Dream Act but to raise up to 3,000 signatures to send to Texas senators, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn. The two Texas senators stand on the opposing side of the issue arguing that it would be unjust to reward citizenship to those who broke the law.
“We felt it was important for us to have a big event here on campus so we could raise awareness of the Dream Act and to also let our senators know that there are people here in El Paso, Texas who care about the education of other individuals who are less privileged,” said Cruz.
If the Dream Act were passed this bill would only remedy a portion of what is the overall problem of Immigration Reform.
“Even by passing the Dream Act, this will only affect 38% of undocumented immigrants that could potentially attend college,” said Cruz.
Although it may only aid a fraction of the illegal immigration population, Cruz, wants people to understand the sensitiveness of the issue in that this act is not just for Mexican Immigrants but for all immigrants that have grown up here in America, brought here by their parents, not by choice. “Some of them do not even speak other languages, or remember their native countries. They want to stay here. They want to be productive members of the American society,” said Cruz.
Although not an official count, Cruz estimated around 1,000 letters in support of the Dream Act were signed during the event, which ran from 10:00AM to 2:00PM.
Other opposing views insisted that this act would only aid a small percentage of the illegal immigrants in comparison to the amount of time and resources it would take to implement and operate such a bill. They argue that a bill for immigration reform should aim at solving a bigger population of illegal immigrants.
Although much of the opposition is from conservatives on Capital Hill, there are a good number of Republicans that support the Dream Act as a bipartisan movement.
There are some misconceptions that some Republicans are against the Dream Act or those that support it are accused by conservatives of supporting amnesty, but as Ryan Padilla, a Junior – Civil Engineering major and Vice Chairman of the UTEP College Republicans states, “We believe that it’s a viable route for illegal immigrants that come here as minors to have the opportunity to become citizens and fulfill their American dream as well as a benefit to universities all across America and the armed forces.”
The Dream Act would allow students who have graduated with a diploma or a GED and are in the country illegal a chance to gain their citizenship through a pathway of temporary residency if; they have been in the country for over 5 years, are under the age of 16, have good moral character, (which means they have not been convicted of a crime), and can complete at least 2 years of a 4 –year higher education institute or 2 years completion in the service. Although, there is nothing mentioned in the bill that requires completion of the 4-year university or military term, they must finish the 2-year requirement within a 6-year period in which they will be granted a temporary residency. Upon completion of the requirements they will become eligible for citizenship.
Gabriella Flores, a freshman at UTEP, who has a visa and is in the process of obtaining legal residency, describes the struggle in which illegal immigrants as oppose to citizens in regards to education and service.
“It’s not fair that most non residents have to struggle a lot to attend college because there are many U.S. Citizens who do not take the opportunity to go to college and to make something better for themselves… when other people, (non-citizens and illegal immigrants), are trying to accomplish those goals, they (U.S. government) make obstacles for them,” said Flores.
In fact many illegal immigrants that have grown-up in America share the same views as Flores in respect to many American’s choice to refuse opportunities to attend college or serve in comparison to non-citizens who wish to receive an education or serve in our military, to fight U.S. wars.
Unfortunately for the anonymous UTEP student, the American dream is not some much a choice but a sad surrender of family ties and a paradoxical arrangement to the pursuit of happiness. “The best way I can describe it is; we’re like birds in a cage we can’t really experience freedom. I can only experience this city, El Paso… As much as I would like to go back to Mexico and visit my family, I can’t… I’m already here so I have to make a life for myself. My family is long gone, I could hardly remember them.”