Why We Must Not Give Up on the DREAM Act

By Steve Pavey 09-22-2010

The DREAM Act did not pass with the National Defense Authorization Act yesterday, but we must not give up. While it is far from comprehensive immigration reform, it does address the largely ignored plight of nearly 1.8 million undocumented children living in the United States.

These children, also known as the "1.5 generation," are growing up and being schooled in the United States without the hope to realize their dreams of higher education and a future vocation. This very vulnerable population straddles two worlds with little hope in either.

As an anthropologist and a friend, I have listened to many stories told by these students. I'm often the second or third person they have ever told outside their family circle. They often only find out themselves when they turn 16-years-old and discover that they cannot apply for a driver's license. They tell of the fearful realization that all the dreams for a future education their classmates talk about "do not apply" to them. They feel lost and afraid. It was not their choice to come to this country, but now they find themselves as cultural citizens in their "home" country with few legal rights.

Izabella was brought to the United States from Argentina by her parents when she was nine years old. She says, "For me, I grew up there until I was nine, but my whole personality, my whole self has grown up here. I've become what I am here. So I can not deny that part of my life and after high school, just erase that." She is currently a senior at a private high school where she ranks at the top in her class. Her mother, who worked as a nurse and elementary school teacher in Argentina, has worked the last nine years as a housekeeper.

Izabella aspires to be a doctor but now faces the prospects of deportation to a country she barely knows or working a minimum wage job similar to her mother's. She says, "The DREAM Act would make me feel like I was accepted somewhere, that I belong somewhere, that I have a future somewhere."

Steve Pavey is an applied anthropologist at the One Horizon Institute in Lexington, Kentucky.

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