I was visiting the home of a neighbor recently when her cleaning crew showed up for their weekly visit. In walked Clara and her daughter, Maria. I knew them both well, because years ago, when my now-teenaged children were still in diapers, Clara would occasionally babysit for me and my husband.
Maria, who was only in elementary school at the time, would often come with her mother on those nights. While Clara played games, changed diapers and sang to my children, little Marie would cuddle up with her favorite book and quietly read the night away. A bright child with a bright future, or so I thought.
You see, I learned that Clara and her daughter are “illegal immigrants,” just two of many who are the hidden support beams that are the foundation of our community. Maria was only 6 when she, her sister, mother and father, escaped a drug-ridden town in northern Mexico and came to the United States in hopes of finding a better life.
Clara took up housecleaning, and the odd babysitting job, while her husband found work doing construction. They applied for their green cards, bought a home, paid their taxes and did what they thought they should do in order to become American citizens. Sadly, it still hasn’t happened.
When she babysat for us, Clara would say, “My daughter is going to college. She will have all the opportunities I didn’t have.” I believed her. I had no reason not to.
Maria worked hard in school and dreamed of becoming a child psychologist. When it came time for college, she wanted to go to San Jose State University, but she was fearful when the online application insisted on a Social Security number. She didn’t know she could apply as an non-resident alien at no risk for deportation.
Also, the tuition was more than her family could afford. Because she wasn’t a citizen, she couldn’t apply for financial aid. Determined to get her college degree, Maria started at Foothills College and could now move on to a four-year university, but she has dropped out.
“Even if I got my college degree,” Maria told me, “no employer can hire me, because I am still not an American citizen.”
For now, she has taken a job as a janitor in a pre-school—the closest she could get to working with kids—and helps her mother clean houses.
Maria is just one of nearly 200,000 eligible students estimated here in California (756,000 nationwide) whose lives would be forever altered by the passage of the DREAM Act, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
These young men and women were brought to the United States by parents whose own dreams included providing a better life for their children. The DREAM Act offers them a path to citizenship through participation in our military or by obtaining a college degree.
Seems to me, these are just the kind of new citizens we want in this country.
Sadly, the DREAM Act has floundered in Congress for years now. It recently drew attention when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted it be added to the Defense budget, saying it was “the morally right thing to do.” The budget didn’t pass (the vote was postponed until after the mid-term elections), and neither did the DREAM Act, leaving the dreams of many to remain on hold.
As Maria told me just before she went off to dust my friend’s home, “It was, and still is, my only hope.”