Teens futures rest on DREAM
Sometimes while Tiffany Z. is mowing lawns and cleaning yards she thinks about what she wants to do after high school.
Working for her father's landscaping company is not part of her plans.
Jesse Corral also doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps and get up at 4 a.m. to work construction.
Martin C. isn't sure what he wants to do. But he knows what he doesn't want to do forever: bag groceries at a local market, his current job.
All three teenagers are among the thousands of students attending schools in Arizona and throughout the nation who face limited futures because they are undocumented immigrants.
Most were brought to the United States by their parents when they were young. Even though they have spent most of their lives in this country, they are ineligible to join the military, work legally or apply for financial aid for college because they have no way to legalize their status.
But the teens have some reason for hope. On Nov. 18, agroup of Republican and Democratic senators reintroduced legislation that would allow undocumented students to gain legal status. The bill first was introduced in 2001, and then again in 2003. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was among the original co-sponsors. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, is considered among the least controversial of several immigration bills Congress will consider next year.
The proposal would affect about 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year in the United States, including several thousand in Arizona.
The measure would grant conditional legal status to undocumented students who successfully complete high school or the equivalent. The students then would have six years to graduate from college or a trade school or join the military. If successful, the conditional legal status would become permanent and they could become U.S. citizens.
Some people think granting legal status to undocumented students is a bad idea without stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
"What we need to do is enforce the laws and ensure that they go home," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Corral, 18, said he considers the United States his home, not Mexico, where he was born. His parents brought him to the United States illegally when he was 3. He considers himself more American than Mexican. He played wide receiver on his high school football team in Phoenix, listens to music by 50 Cent, and speaks English much better than Spanish.
After he graduates in June, Corral plans to attend Phoenix College, then transfer to Arizona State University or the University of Arizona. He'd like to be a physical education teacher. But without legal status, he may have to settle for much less. "I worry about that a lot," he said.
Tiffany Z., 16, also from Mexico, loves skating and the band KISS.She asked that her full name not be published out of fear of being deported. She carries a cellphone to the high school she attends in Phoenix to answer calls from customers for her dad's landscaping business. On weekends she helps out by mowing yards. If the DREAM Act passes, she hopes to attend college and become a medical examiner.
"It (the DREAM Act) would be very beneficial for a lot of us. It would give us so many more opportunities," she said.
Martin C., 16, isn't thinking about the future yet. He bags groceries for $6 an hour after school. He gives half the money he earns to his mother for food, the ther half helps buy clothes for his younger brother.
He envies an uncle who is a legal permanent resident, which allowed him to get a job at a recycling plant, and buy a pickup truck.
"He has succeeded very
well in life," Martin said.