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California Dreaming and the Dream Act November 29, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics.
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A stenciled image from a wall in Venice, California reminiscent of the official yellow road signs posted along the freeway outside San Diego. The signs urged CAUTION and featured the same family of illegals running across the freeway. The signs were deemed not PC and eventually removed, but the image left a lasting impression.

Update Dec. 18, 2010 – The Dream Act fell five votes short of passing in the U.S. Senate today. What a wonderful Christmas present it would have been to have given these young people the gift of hope.  Jan

On the front page of The Los Angeles Times today appeared an article Standing up for a Dream – With a vote due soon on the legislation, undocumented students are shedding their secrecy and speaking out. I’ve been meaning to write about the Dream Act for awhile.  With its passage now being considered during this lame duck session of Congress, the time has come.  I can’t stay silent for fear of ruffling a few feathers.

Two years ago a friend of my son’s, who I’ll call Jose (How generic is that?), lived with us for 18 months. When Jose was five, he and his younger brother were smuggled across the Texas border by two strange women – coyotes. His parents had left both boys behind with relatives in Mexico to seek work in the U.S. Jose’s mother, who was 15 when he was born, was converted by Mormon missionaries.  So two boys from Puebla found themselves living on the outskirts of Salt Lake City –  Mormon Ground Zero.

Jose’s parents worked day and night for a cleaning business often leaving the boys to fend for themselves. His father’s brother joined them. They bought a house. Jose and his brother attended public schools. Mormonism fell by the wayside. The marriage floundered. When Jose’s uncle died, his mother returned to Puebla with his younger brother to put things in order. The visit stretched into weeks, then months. She was not coming back, and Jose’s father had no interest in returning to Mexico.

Jose had come out to his mother as gay, but not to his father.  When he did, his father wanted nothing to do with him  (I’m happy to say that two years later, father and son reconciled.)  So here was a boy in high school who to his mind was 100 percent American. His relatives in Mexico were appalled at how poor his Spanish was when he talked to them on the phone. And although he could speak Spanish, he never learned to read or write it.

Long story short – Jose moved in with us.

He couldn’t attend high school, so he studied for and passed the California High School Equivalency Exam. This allows students, in effect, to quiz out of high school and enter community college. But with no documentation, Jose would have to pay out-of-state tuition. He picked up a few cash jobs, but not enough to make ends meet.  Certainly not enough to pay for college. Returning to Mexico was never an option, or at least one he discussed.

For Christmas we gave Jose  a consultation with an immigration attorney through the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.  The attorney laid out Jose’s options.  Getting a fake Social Security card was never an option as that’s a felony which would have prevented him from ever applying for citizenship.  He could petition the court that as a minor he feared for his safety if he returned to Mexico because he was gay. The attorney asked if anyone had ever molested him, or he had memories of abuse.  Jose looked at him blankly.  “I don’t remember anything about Mexico,” he replied.  At the very least we were talking $5000 in legal fees. Then the attorney mentioned the Dream Act.  We were all ears.

Obama had just been elected and the attorney was blunt.  He thought the new president had way too many issues on his plate to tackle the hot button issue of immigration.  Although the Dream Act had the support of both senators in California, as most of those students covered by the Dream Act live in California, its future was in limbo.

Jose thought about his options, or lack of.  He grew depressed.  Four months later, we bought Jose a one-way ticket to Mexico City.  He was returning to a country he had no memory of. I felt like we were sending him into exile in Siberia. His tearful calls confirmed his worst nightmares. The culture shock was overwhelming.

I’m sure there are those who would say, “Boo hoo!  That’s what you get for being illegal in America!” But Jose and so many other children here, including many students that I’ve taught, did not have a choice in how they came to the U.S.  While many have floundered, those illegal students covered by the Dream Act represent the best and the brightest.  I fear that many of our own “legal” children would not meet these standards.  The Dream Act does not guarantee citizenship, but offers a path to legal residency. It offers hope.

Before you make up your mind, be sure to read the link to the article from The Los Angeles Times. I fear that if the Dream Act is not passed, those who’ve stepped forward into the light to share their stories must once again retreat into the shadows.

Comments»

1. Tina - November 29, 2010

The personal stories will better inform the public debate over this legislation. Thank you for sharing.

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2. Tracy - November 29, 2010

…and the fact that your family is now connected to this fine, young man that you cannot help only further isolates you from the “haters’…

Our kind won’t die due to environment- it will die due to ignorance…

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3. Tracy - November 29, 2010

Link the articles you want readers to read…

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4. Catherine Sherman - December 2, 2010

Please let us know how Jose is doing now. Can he never return? It’s seems very unfair to place a roadblock in a child’s life when they have come so far and were unprepared for this shock. You see on a daily basis how adults have placed children in difficult situations.

I’d thought that you were on a path to citizenship when you joined the military if you weren’t already a citizen, so I’m confess to not knowing the details.

Cathy,
I’m not sure Jose can return unless on a travel/student visa despite growing up in the U.S. I don’t think that Dream Act would apply to him unless he was somehow able to return and complete two years of college. Although California does offer in-state tuition for undocumented students, he had to be a resident for a year to qualify. He had been told by his father that he had papers. In reality there were none.

Each week in The Los Angeles Times publishes way too many obituaries for troops killed in Iraq/Afghanistan. I was surprised when I realized how many of those who have died were not citizens, but made the ultimate sacrifice. Who knew? Jan

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5. Tim Bradley - December 6, 2010

Nice one. I’ll check where my elected representatives stand on the Dream Act.

Tim,
We live on the Left Coast. Jan

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