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New degrees wont help get jobs for 2 sons of Martinezes
Arizona Daily Star
December 23, 2003
Ernesto Portillo Jr.

The Martinez family gave itself an early Christmas present Saturday.

Salvador and Sylvia Martinez watched with pride as their two sons, Salvador Jr. and Carlos Ivan, received their engineering degrees at the University of Arizona's winter commencement.

The diplomas represented the hard work and selfless commitment that the Martinezes gave their sons. The diplomas mirrored their sons' discipline and resolve to earn their degrees.

Seventeen months ago, I wrote about the Martinez family. I held up the parents as a model for parental responsibility in getting their children the best education possible. Their sons, I suggested, should be the poster boys for grit and ganas.

The Martinezes had every excuse to fail, but they chose to succeed. The family came to Tucson in 1991 from Sonora because there was no work. The family did not speak English. Salvador Jr. and Carlos Ivan attended Roskruge Bilingual School and Cholla High School. The elder Martinez worked whenever he could find a job.

In those 12 years, the parents remained involved in their sons' education, letting them know what was expected of them. In return, Salvador Jr., now 24, and Carlos Ivan, 21, dutifully responded.

This is the kind of story, in mythology and in reality, on which we have built this country.

The Martinez family came to this country with little and practiced our venerated work ethic. The parents learned some English, their sons earned an education.

The Martinezes complied with the social contract, but Salvador Jr. and Carlos Ivan cannot complete it. The young computer and electrical engineers, born with the drive to achieve, cannot work here legally.

They are not legal residents.

"My goal was to graduate and have a job offer at the same time. But I didn't," Carlos Ivan said Monday in the family apartment.

Salvador said he and his brother are anguished over their professional future, but they are not vanquished. They will consider pursuing their graduate degrees.

"Like my father said, 'No one is going to take your degree away from you,'" said Salvador Jr.

They said they will wait and hope for a change in U.S. immigration law that would allow them to work here legally.

If allowed to work, they can repay their parents by carrying on their values. They can repay the university by paying taxes. And they can repay the community by inspiring other Latino youths to overcome language, cultural and financial barriers to collect a college diploma.
That would be the smart move for this country. But we're inflexible when it comes to undocumented immigrants.

Just listen to that loud swooshing sound every time the subject of legalizing undocumented immigrants surfaces. It is the collective knee-jerk reaction of opponents.

Too bad the anti-legalization clamoring muffles the voices of millions of hardworking and honest undocumented immigrants who are contributing to this country and wish to continue without the burden of secrecy.

But there is a growing critical mass of people, like Salvador Jr. and Carlos Ivan, who possess so much talent and energy, and whose voices will have to be heard sooner or later.

They are not going to disappear.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress that would begin to give some form of legalization to non-criminal undocumented immigrants. While the proposals have received stinging rebukes, there appears to be some political movement toward legalization. Maybe this time next year the Martinez family will have as a Christmas present the possibility of becoming legal residents.

* Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at netopjr@azstarnet.com.