Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nine Digits Away from a Dream

What would you do if your American dream had to be deferred? And how would you respond when you find out that your dream must be deferred because of nine digits? Yep, nine digits would be separating you from your plans, your hopes, your wishes, your future. Doesn't that seem unfair?

Well, it is. It's quite unfair for all the young people to work so hard to go to college, yet can't access any financial aid because they are undocumented immigrants. And even if they can somehow make it through college, they can't get a job because they don't have those nine little digits. Even though they came here as children, and even though they only remember living here, they are punished for something they had no control over.

So what can be done about this injustice? Follow me down below for more...

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

A couple of days ago, I met this guy named Ricardo. He seemed like a nice guy, and like a typical young professional in Orange County who did everything he was supposed to do to succeed. Yet for some reason, he can't.

Ricardo did everything he was supposed to do in high school. He excelled in his classes, and he went on to college. He now has a bachelor's degree in molecular biology. He has a master's in health policy. He wants to serve people in the medical profession. However, he can't.

So why can't Ricardo get a job? He doesn't have those nine digits. His parents brought him here with them some nineteen years ago, and they all came here undocumented. He was only eight years old. He hardly even remembers Mexico. He's spent the vast majority of his life in the US, and this nation is the nation he calls home.

Ricardo never sought to break the law. He doesn't gang-bang. He doesn't deal drugs. He's not some "criminal alien". He's just a smart guy who did everything right and went to school and planned to do something good with his life. So why must he be "punished" for something that he had no control over.

Unfortunately, Ricardo had no opportunity to receive any financial aid. He started school before AB 540 became the law of the land in California in 2003. And since he didn't have those nine digits, he had to struggle just to afford his college tuition.

But even now that he's finished school, Ricardo still has to struggle. He can't get a job. He still doesn't have those nine digits. He's at his wit's end. Without the nine digits, all his dreams must be put on hold indefinitely.

So what can be done? Ricardo's just one person who's been unfairly "punished" because of his immigration status. These young people didn't make a "choice to come here illegally". They didn't just decide to "break the law". They came here as kids, yet they're being punished like adult criminals. What can be done to fix this?

Obviously, AB 540 isn't enough. This only helps immigrant students in California, and it only helps these students go to school. However, it doesn't help them get jobs after school. That's why we need the DREAM Act.

So what would the DREAM Act do? Basically, it would give a path to legalization for people who brought to the US undocumented as children by their parents. In order to qualify, they need proof of having arrived in the United States before reaching 16 years of age ,as well as proof of residence in the US for a least five consecutive years since their date of arrival. Oh yes, and they must have graduated from an American High School, or obtained a GED. Oh, and they must also demonstrate "good moral character," which is defined as the absence of a significant criminal record (or any drug charges whatsoever).

So what exactly would be done? Here's a quick rundown from the Wiki entry:

Immigrants who meet the above requirements would be eligible to apply for a temporary six (6) year "conditional" residence permit which would allow them to live legally in the United States, obtain driver's licenses, attend college as in-state residents, work legally (including obtaining a social security number), and apply for special travel documents which would allow for travel outside of the country for limited amounts of time.

During the six years of conditional status, the eligible immmigrant would be required to either (1) graduate from a two-year community college, (2) complete at least two years towards a 4-year degree, or (3) serve two years in the U.S. military. After the six year period, an immigrant who meets at least one of these three conditions would be eligible to apply for legal permanent resident (green card) status. During their temporary time, immigrants would not be eligible for federal higher education grants such as Pell grants, though they would be able to apply for student loans and work study.

There, now doesn't that sound fair? Doesn't this do justice for people like Ricardo who never sought to "break the law", but just want a chance to do something good with their lives? Don't they have a right to pursue their dreams? Oh yes, and shouldn't they finally just have a chance to get those darn nine digits so that they can move on with their lives? Isn't it only in the best interest of the greater society that they can be productive forces in our society?

So would you like to find out more about the stories of these immigrant students, the story behind the DREAM Act, and why we shouldn't stereotype immigrants? If you're in Orange County, you can watch a special play, "9ine Digits Away from My Dream". You can hear more about Ricardo's story, as well as stories from other immigrant students in Orange County who are struggling because of an unfair system. And yes, you can gain some more understanding, and find out what you can do to change this.

And no matter where you live, you can urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to get the DREAM Act passed in the House. Isn't it time that we stop deferring these young people's dreams? Should we allow nine digits to get in the way of these people's dreams of better lives?

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