By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Erika cannot imagine living in Mexico. She says she will never leave the U.S. and is clinging to the distant hope that the DREAM Act or some version of it will make her whole, make her a full-fledged citizen of the United States.
"Mexico is a foreign country to me and I wouldn't understand living there," she says. "My mother fears that I'll be deported someday, but I can't live in fear or not work or live my life. I can't live in hiding. Every year when I hear about the DREAM Act, I say, 'This will be the year.' And I cross my fingers and then it doesn't happen, and I lose it again. But then I pick myself up. I am hopeful, though it's hard to stay that way. There are so many ups and downs. But I have no option. Even though my mother was unable to give birth to me in the U.S., I am still an American and I'm going to stay here and make my dreams come true."
Ricky, on the other hand, believes his future is terribly bleak unless some version of the DREAM Act passes into law.
"We contribute so much and are willing to work so hard and do so much for a chance," he says. "And it's a slap in the face that we can't get that chance no matter how well you behave or how well you do in school. I really don't have a lot of hope right now."
When asked if he'd be comfortable living in Mexico again, Ricky says he feels torn.
"I cannot go back to Mexico because I don't totally identify with there because I didn't grow up there," he says. "But here in the States, I don't feel like I'm welcome. We are not seen as equals here. On one hand, you potentially have good opportunities and a better economy here, and on the other hand in Mexico you have a really bad economy and no opportunity, but a country that will claim you. So it's a difficult decision and one that I have not made up yet in my mind. I think I just want to be able to get my degree and be a doctor and then see where we are and what my options are. It's a real waiting game."
A recent survey conducted annually by Rice University professor Stephen Klineberg reveals that Harris County residents are increasingly viewing immigrants in a negative light. The study found that 63 percent of residents agreed that action should be taken to reduce the number of new immigrants, up from 48 percent in 2004, and that 61 percent believe undocumented immigrants constitute a very serious problem, up from 43 percent in 2006. The survey also found that only 56 percent support granting citizenship to illegal immigrants who speak English and do not have a criminal record, as opposed to 68 percent in 2007. Finally, only 43 percent say immigrants contribute more to the U.S. economy than they take, versus 52 percent in 2002.
To Javier these latest figures are no surprise. He says that conquering negative stereotypes, reinforced by the news media, which report a seemingly never-ending parade of crime stories featuring illegal immigrants, is one of the largest hurdles to getting something like the DREAM Act passed.
"I hate living under a stereotype," he says. "I'm Mexican, so I guess I have to be mowing lawns, selling drugs and beating up my wife, right? People look at that and say, 'He's going to be a nobody in America, so let's just kick him out.' And I don't want people putting that on me. Image is important, and it's important what other people think. If people are going to look at me as a criminal, I don't like that and that's one of the reasons it's important for me to go to school."
Looking at Javier, one could never tell he wasn't a U.S. citizen. He's quite preppy, dressed in a Polo shirt, khaki shorts and a baseball cap turned backwards. He could easily pass for a Long Island lacrosse player.
Javier's parents brought him to Houston when he was seven, and they settled in a mostly white suburb less than half an hour outside the city. Like Ricky, he did well in school and dreamed of one day going to college and becoming a doctor. He is on pace to graduate from the University of Houston next year with a degree in biology and plans on attending optometry school. Javier's father is paying his son's full in-state tuition.
All through high school, Javier kept his immigration status hidden even from his closest friends. It was strange, he says, keeping a secret. He felt like he could never have real friendships because this one lie always hung over the relationship. That all ended his senior year when Javier says he wanted to serve his country but was rejected from the Air Force because he did not have a Social Security number. Prior to that, Javier had been a star football player for his school and one of the more popular kids there.