Over the past 20 months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting thousands of dedicated college students at screenings of The Other Side of Immigration. At most of my screenings, I know there are at least a few students in the audience who entered the U.S. illegally at a very young age.
The word “entered” is misleading, however, because the vast majority of these young people were brought here by their parents—often before they could even speak or walk. These young people grew up speaking English. They grew up playing baseball and basketball, singing in choir, acting in school plays. They grew up going to birthday parties and sleepovers at the houses of their American-born friends. And like their American-born friends, they grew up with big dreams. They worked hard to get through high school, then went on to college to develop the skills they would need to get a job and be a success.
But because of an act that was not of their choosing, they remain undocumented in the eyes of the law. Their undocumented status means that even with a college degree, these young people are destined to live in fear of being deported to a country they do not know and will only ever have access to the same low-paying jobs that any other undocumented immigrant has access to. The scourge of poverty will thus be passed along to yet another generation—a cohort that has the skills and ambitions to make valuable contributions to our country, but which our laws have branded as “illegal” and deemed unworthy of making such contributions.
Today, the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to correct all of this, but yet again, let short-term political calculations get in the way of passing the Dream Act.
I make a sincere effort to empathize with Americans who are opposed to undocumented immigration, and I can often see why they find many pieces of immigration legislation controversial even when I take a different position. I will never be able to understand, however, why a bill like the Dream Act—an effort to make sure innocent, hard-working young people have, at the very least, an avenue for escaping a life of poverty—meets so much opposition. Moral arguments aside, confining millions of young people to a life of poverty with no way out is, quite simply, bad policy and bad for America.