The American Dream?
on October 5, 2010
Francisco has dreams. They are good dreams, but not legal ones. The 24-year-old from Zelaya, Mexico, arrived under the undocumented coattails of his parents when he was just five years old. Today, after the failure of legislation called the “Dream Act,” Francisco’s hopes of becoming a schoolteacher must be put on political hold.
Introduced in 2001 by Sen. Orin Hatch, of Utah, The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly referred to as the DREAM Act, would allow children of undocumented immigrants the chance to gain citizenship by graduating college or by serving two years in the military.
The bill’s logic is simple. Children of undocumented immigrants do not have a say as to where they live, but they can still plan and invest in their future by becoming productive members of America’s society. Opponents, however, feel illegal immigrants are “illegal” and taxpayer money should not be focused on those who are not citizens.
The immigration act piggybacked on a larger defense bill that included the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays serving in the military. Needing 60 votes to pass, the motion fell short by four votes: 56 to 43.
“If the DREAM Act came true it would be a huge opportunity to me,” said Francisco. “I’d be on my way to being a schoolteacher. It would definitely be a dream come true to me.”
Francisco spotlights his frustration with a joke.
“What is the difference between race and being a magician?” Francisco asked. “They both create illusions,” he said with a smile.
Francisco has lived in Richmond since he was five, attending local schools and graduating from Richmond High. At school, he says, students know who is a legal resident and who is not. Those with documentation get help and guidance. Those without often lose hope.
“I had a friend, Jose, that always wanted to join the military,” said Francisco. “Then one day in the 12th grade he just dropped out of school. He was like, ‘Why am I going? I can’t even get a job here.’ He just bailed out totally.”
Francisco says being an undocumented immigrant is no walk in the park. Applying for insurance or obtaining a driver’s license is impossible. Not to mention the mental hurdle of hearing media outlets define them as criminals.
“Illegal immigrants aren’t the ones bringing drugs into this country — we just want work and a better life,” said Francisco. “Another thing I see is the misconception that most illegal immigrants get welfare — the thing is we can’t even get it.”
But beyond the political, cultural and language barriers, there is something else: a nine-number code that everyone needs to make a living — a Social Security Number.
In order to work most undocumented immigrants obtain false Social Security Numbers. This is what Francisco did.
“You go over to the Mission and just by walking around and dressing and looking like you’re an immigrant they’ll pull you off the street and ask if you want a Social Security Number,” said Francisco. “It’s an underground operation.”
But there are risks. When Francisco applied for financial aid while as a student at a local college, officials then discovered that not only was his Social Security Number false, it also contained a felony charge.
“Can you imagine what would happen to me for things I didn’t even commit,” said Francisco. “My mistake was using a fake number.”
Unable to afford tuition because the college could not offer financial aid without a proper Social Security Number, Francisco was forced to drop out of college.
And so the game of cat and mouse begins.
Francisco believes big business has something to do with the difficult passage of the DREAM Act. As for the failing legislation, Francisco is resigned to his lack of power in American society.
“Illegal immigrants are scapegoats in this country,” said Francisco. “But in reality big businesses like their cheap labor.”
Francisco hopes immigration reform happens in his lifetime, but is well aware that it’s pretty far away right now.
“It’s always good to keep hopes — we can only do what we can do,” said Francisco.
In the meantime, Francisco will keep working and contributing to his community as a volunteer where he works with local kids. Even if he never becomes a citizen he wants to give back.
“What I would really love though, is if I could be someone that kids can go back and say, ‘Oh he was working like that and he didn’t have the papers that I don’t have — at least he did something.’ I hope they can look back one day and say ‘I remember that guy!’”
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