The DREAM Act Might Be Dead, But These Kids' Hopes Are Not

They are American in everything but name. They can go to college in Texas and improve themselves. Doesn't matter. At the end of the day, they're just illegal immigrants without social security numbers or futures.

The phone was already ringing when Javier walked through the front door to his parents' house.

"Hello?" said Javier, who had just returned from the University of Houston campus where he and a group of undocumented students had been passing out pro-DREAM Act fliers just days before the U.S. Senate voted on the bill in the fall of 2007.

Officially called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, the proposed legislation would provide a path to legal residency for illegal immigrants who wish to serve in the armed forces or attend college and whose parents brought them to the United States when they were young.

Javier attracted the wrong kind of attention when he passed out fliers arguing for changes in U.S. immigration laws.
Keri Rosebraugh
Javier attracted the wrong kind of attention when he passed out fliers arguing for changes in U.S. immigration laws.
Erika Solis goes by another name in her office life.
Keri Rosebraugh
Erika Solis goes by another name in her office life.

"Good evening, sir," said the man on the other end of the line. "I'd like to talk to you about opening a line of credit with our new offer from Visa in conjunction with the University of Houston. All we need is your Social Security number,"

"Oh, no thanks," said Javier. "I don't need a credit card right now."

"What, don't you have a social security number?" said the voice. "Are you a wetback? Are you scared that I'm going to turn you over to the police and you'll get thrown outta my country? Why don't you just go back to Mexico."

Javier slammed down the receiver and turned away. The phone rang again.

"Hello," answered Javier.

It was the same threatening voice, so Javier hung up once more.

"I have to say, I was really scared," says Javier (not his real name).

The next day at school, Javier told his fellow DREAM Act students what had happened.

"They said that they all had the same thing happen to them all the time," says Javier.

Even though the DREAM Act itself would only affect a relatively small number of people, it is every bit a part of the larger political dogfight that is immigration reform in this country.

Supporters argue that by providing a path to citizenship, these immigrants are able to legally work and contribute to the country both economically and socially. Critics say it's akin to a tax giveaway for people who shouldn't be here and threatens to open the floodgates for other piecemeal amnesty bills, thus deepening the overall immigration problem.

"I'm going to take a hard-line position," says Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project in Washington, D.C., "and the reason is that if I start making an exception here, then I'll have to make one there and there and there, and soon you have 4,000 different exceptions and we're right back at square one. The DREAM Act is a gateway bill and it continues to keep the gateway open and doesn't solve the problem but rather makes more excuses to keep the problem in place. And that's my fear."

Bob Dane, communications director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, also looks at the DREAM Act in broad terms.

"The DREAM Act is basically an amnesty plan disguised as an education initiative," Dane says. "It is yet another benefit that provides yet another incentive for more and more illegal aliens to enter the country. Getting control of illegal immigration involves border enforcement, heightened document verification, but really, getting to the heart of it, denying benefits. Benefits like driver's licenses, credit cards, jobs, and yes, even subsidized college tuition."

In contrast, Judy Lee, chairwoman of the Texas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers of America, says that students like Javier have fallen prey to the screaming heads on television.

"In terms of immigration legislation," she says, "you'd think this would be a slam-dunk. But it's been really twisted. I think the right wing and TV and radio people have painted it as, 'Open up the borders and let them all in.' But these are people who really want to contribute and it saddens me that people are not taking a closer look at this and are falling for the radio and TV personalities. It's disheartening and I think people are not getting all the information about the relatively few number of kids affected, how much these kids have to offer, and how it's in our own self-interest to allow them to have legal status. We've already made the investment in them through the public school system. Why not recoup our investment?"

It is already legal for undocumented immigrants to go to college in Texas. They can still be picked up and deported by federal authorities at any time, but most of them go out of the way not to call attention to themselves.

The wall they hit is upon receiving a degree. Turns out you can go to school without a Social Security number. But without one, you can't get a good job once you ­graduate.

And now that the provisions for the DREAM Act have been all but abandoned by politicians, marking a rising anti-immigrant fever in this country, it looks like nothing is going to change about this anytime soon.

Another two weeks and Erika Solis would've been born an American. Her mother was eight and a half months pregnant when she fled to the United States from Mexico, escaping from an abusive boyfriend who had kept her locked inside his San Luis Potosi home.

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