I am a 21-year-old undocumented University of Illinois at Chicago graduate with a Bachelors degree in English literature. As my career goal is to become a professor, I need to attend graduate school. However, because of my immigration status, I am not able to work legally, apply for financial aid or student loans or federal grants. Therefore, it is virtually impossible for me to continue my education until my immigration status is adjusted and I have become legal. I had pinned my hopes on the DREAM Act which would provide undocumented students of a certain age a pathway for citizenship. My hopes were dashed when the Senate rejected the Act last December. I was back to square one.
As is the case with the families of most undocumented students, my parents worked day and night to earn enough money to pay full tuition and fees so that I may graduate from UIC. I did not receive one cent in aid from any government scholarship, any private grant, or any student loan. I worked equally hard as my classmates and earned straight A’s in all of my English classes, almost to prove to everyone and to myself that I was competent enough to go to school in the U.S. If my parents were not extremely dedicated to their children’s education, and I was not doggedly determined that I finish college, I might not have graduated. I would probably be sitting at home in Chicago wasting away my talents or have seriously considered traveling back to Pakistan, where I am a citizen.
I quickly realized good grades are not enough for Americans to back the DREAM Act. There is widespread hostility against immigrants. They are considered leeches who feed on taxpayers’ dollars and take away jobs, only to go back to their home countries and invest in their own economies.
These ideas are incredibly misguided. Most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are hard-working, proud Americans who raise families and believe in the American ideals of liberty, dignity, and opportunity. Most of them are low-wage, working-class people who need to feed their children and pay the bills like all Americans. Critics of the DREAM Act are quick to point out what immigrants “take” from this country, but why do undocumented individuals’ contributions to this country go unmentioned? Chances are you will see an undocumented student cleaning toilets, picking fruit or flipping burgers, earning less than the minimum wage for years with no hope of a better future.
Has it not occurred to opponents of the DREAM Act that if I was to become a professor one day, which is my life’s dream, I would teach American students at an American university and pay taxes which would ultimately help the economy? Why must I be told “No” when I have worked just as hard as everyone else in my graduating class and have paid UIC four years’ worth of tuition — money which my parents could have used to buy a better home, a nicer car, or saved for retirement? Why must their sacrifices go to waste and my dreams be denied?
The answer is that while the American government is content with exploiting undocumented workers and using them as serfs, it does not want to give them rights. Lawmakers know that even if such an individual acquires a social security number, he or she will pay taxes but never get retirement benefits or social security. They will not be able to drive, or get a state-issued ID or travel outside of the country. Neither will they vote or have any say in electing their mayor or congressman or senator.
So far, the government has continued to turn the DREAM into a nightmare for millions of undocumented people. Ideas like “civil rights”, “liberty”, “justice”, and “freedom” will remain to be merely words to those who are undocumented until they are implemented and made available to us. I urge the Senate, the House of Representatives, and President Obama to back the federal DREAM Act in order to provide undocumented youth who were brought here as children a chance at success – a chance at a normal life. Let the dream live; do not let it become a nightmare for the millions like me.