DREAMING OF AN ACT
In consideration today at the United States Legislature is the DREAM Act, an initiative that is almost ten years old.
Its name suggests the clarity of its purpose: Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.
It is meant to give a path to students—or former students—to become conditional permanent residents, later on to become legal permanent residents, and eventually, to become citizens of the United States.
First introduced on August 1, 2001 and reintroduced on May 11, 2011, the bill provides conditional permanent residency for “certain illegal and deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U. S. legally or illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior the bill’s enactment.”
Accounts from various sources speak of about 825,000 to 2.1 “illegal and deportable alien students” who could benefit from this initiative as soon as it is enacted.
Of this number, we do not know how many of them are students of Philippine descent, students who have come to live here, stayed in our classrooms, and learned the rudiments of American citizenship and the responsibilities of becoming one.
But we are certain of one thing: that a good number of them are students of Philippine descent who came with their parents or relatives to the United States in pursuit of a better life not found in the home country.
For such is the route of a number of people of the Philippines in their pursuit of one living hope: that the United States will give them a better opportunity, that given the chance, they will make it here despite the setbacks, the adjustments, the culture shock, and the numerous sacrifices that gain some credence, shape, and form only when told again and again in their rawness.
We have the story in Antonio Vargas’ narrative, a powerful testimonial to the greatness of what we can do to this potential human resource.
Vargas is the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who came forward with his story of being an undocumented student—and being an undocumented writer—published at New York Times.
Vargas came into the country assuming a different identity, with a fake passport.
He was barely in his teens when he came, and did not know anything about what he was getting into.
As soon as he got into the country, he assumed his old identity, became known as himself, but with a fake Social Security number and a fake permanent residency card that he could not use when he tried to get his California driver license.
He was devastated when he found out about the limits of what he could do as an undocumented student with so much ambition, with the dream to make it here, and live a life better than what he had known at a young age in his home province in Zambales.
Vargas maybe an extraordinarily gifted “illegal and deportable alien” who went through high school and college in the United States, and learned all the ways to becoming American, even winning the much-coveted journalism award.
But his case represents the estimated 825,000 to 2.1 million students and young career professionals who will benefit from the Dream Act.
Arne Duncan, currently the Secretary of Education, says it aptly about our need for these “potential beneficiaries”: “We just need this human potential, the tremendous capacity, to contribute to society, to contribute to our economy.”
At the core of the Dream Act is our offer to provide a path to citizenship to those who have come to our shores and to share with us the blessings of American life.
It is recognizing—and admitting—that our country needs all the young people who have so much promise, so much potential, so much faith in our way of life.
Rahm Emmanuel, mayor of Chicago, says that this path to citizenship is what the dream of becoming American is all about.
It is taking part of that dream—of participating in it.
It is pursuing a dream—and realizing it—the way the first immigrants pursued, and realized, their dream of becoming a new people.
Doing the right thing for our students who have come to share our American life is the right thing to do.
It is dreaming of an act—it is pursuing the dream to become American.
And it is the right thing to do.
FAO Editorial, July 2011