May 20, 2013
Written by Nicole Narea
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 23:00
It was on one of those bone-chilling New England winter mornings that I sank into a desk to take my first SAT. The nervous shivers oscillated up and down my spine. We’d begun the formality of “bubbling” in our personal information when I reached the box labeled “Ethnicity.” To many, my blue eyes and blonde hair deny me the right to identify myself as such, but the privilege of dual heritage, American and Chilean, makes it irrefutable: I am a Hispanic-American. When my pencil touched the paper, I remembered the many reasons that I am proud to fill in that bubble. One of them is a senior at Georgetown University whom I met last year.I was attending a conference about the State of Latinos in the U.S. in one of Georgetown University’s ornate lecture halls where a panel of experts gathered to discuss immigration reform and the future of the 47.8 million Hispanics living in the country as projected by the U.S. Census. One individual stood out amongst the rest, not a Washington D.C. luminary, but a nervous 20-year-old in a suit that was too big for him. His name was Juan. He interrupted the lecture to share his story.
He was born in Colombia before his parents immigrated illegally to the U.S. when he was two in pursuit of a better life. He entered the public education system and had a typically American childhood. But the quandary of college always loomed. Because of his status as an illegal alien, his A-average and involvement in public service meant nothing to admissions officers. While his peers were accepted to Ivy League schools, he could only be accepted to community college. He managed to transfer to Georgetown on a special scholarship the next year, only to find out that his parents were to be deported. He has not seen them in two years. He now worries what will become of him once he tries to find a job after graduation. You see, his illegal status renders him useless to any employer. And he lives in fear that he, too, will be deported back a country that he does not remember, forced to relinquish the only home that he has ever known.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (the ‘DREAM’ Act) proposed to change all of that before it was defeated at the end of the last congressional session this past December. It would have given approximately 65,000 high school graduates of good moral character who immigrated illegally to the U.S. before age 16 the opportunity to earn permanent residency if they completed two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning. Though those individuals compose less than 1% of the Hispanic illegal immigrant population, the policy behind the bill touches on the broad definitional problem of who should be legally eligible to pursue the American dream.
In a press release last December, before the tragedy in Tuscon, Ariz., U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said of the DREAM Act, “If these individuals want to serve the United States by putting on a military uniform, we should find a way to make that possible. If they want to strengthen our economy by seeking higher education, we should find a way to make that possible, too.”
I, too, believe in the power of this legislation. I had been following the bill’s progress closely and, when its failure was announced, my Twitter news feed came alive with expressions of crushed hopes from around the country. Knowing Juan’s personal sacrifice and commitment in pursuit of the American dream, I also shared in that disappointment.
The U.S. Census points to the growing Hispanic population, but data pales by comparison to the laudable determination of immigrants like Juan. At the conference, Björn-Sören Gigler of Georgetown’s Center for Latin American Studies summed it well: “This is about their family life, the intangible issues of human dimension that can’t be captured by statistics.”
It’s easy to relate to Juan. A short century ago, stories like his were associated with the huddled masses from Europe, eager to propel this country forward with their unbridled will. Thankfully, they did. Now, in this new century, it’s time to make Juan’s dream come true and put his will to good use for our country’s next chapter.
Nicole Narea is a junior from Greenwich at Convent of the Sacred Heart.
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