Some local students felt their own dreams dim last month when the DREAM Act failed in Washington.
“I may have to start all over again in Mexico,” said one Clark County high school junior who lives illegally in the United States. “There are a lot of people who want to continue their lives here and now can’t.”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would have allowed illegal immigrants who came to the United States with their families before they turned 16, and who plan to attend college or join the military, to move toward legality.
But the Senate last month blocked the legislation with a 52-44 vote for the act. Sixty votes were needed to advance the proposal.
Advocates for the DREAM Act said children should not be punished for the illegal immigration of their parents.
Opponents argued the bill would put people on a path to citizenship even if they were living in the country illegally, amounting to a type of amnesty.
The White House opposed the legislation and criticized the bill in a statement for “creating a special path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants — including young people whose parents respected the nation’s immigration laws.”
Caught in the middle are the children, many of whom have grown up in the United States, have assimilated American culture and have few memories of their countries of origin.
The 17-year-old Clark County high school junior, who asked to be identified as Francisco, has put on hold his own plans to go to college and one day become a journalist. He’s living in limbo without papers, he said.
“I’m scared. I don’t want to go back to Mexico, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Francisco asked the Review-Journal not to publish his real name because of fears that he and his family might be targeted by immigration officials or harassed by people who think he should be deported.
But he’s a good student who is actively involved at school. He’s lived in Southern Nevada with his family for years, speaks English and loves the United States.
“People don’t know how many good kids there are” in the same situation, Francisco said. “For a lot of people, the doors are closed.”
Clark County schools don’t track how many of their students are living illegally in the country. But some administrators say the number is probably substantial.
“You find out at graduation, because they can’t go to college,” Rancho High School Principal Bob Chesto said.
Chesto would not say how many illegal immigrant students he thinks are enrolled at Rancho. But he said a good number of his students would have benefitted from the DREAM Act, which also would have given students who adjusted their status to legal permanent residency the opportunity to apply for federal student loans.
“I think it’s unfortunate” that the bill failed, Chesto said. “There are some really bright minds that could help our country in the future. Without the DREAM Act, we are halting these kids.”
Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, estimated that thousands of such students live in Clark County.
Illegal immigration continues to be a divisive national issue because of the U.S. government’s failure to act on immigration reform decades ago, he said.
“It is our fault,” he said. “The borders should have been protected more rigorously years ago. We are in essence all to blame because we looked the other way.”
Young people who are in the United States illegally through no fault of their own should not be punished for that, he said.
“These children have totally assimilated. I think it’s a sin to now say to these children, ‘Now you have to go back.’ “
Romero said the DREAM Act will be resurrected, and he hopes for an eventual immigration reform bill that concentrates on keeping families together.
Arleane Muñoz, a Rancho High junior and U.S. citizen who is president of the school’s Hispanic Student Union, also hopes for the act’s eventual passage.
The illegal immigrant students she has known weigh heavily on her mind as she fills out college and financial aid applications.
Some of those students give up their own hopes of going to college because they can’t get financial aid or good jobs, she said. Some may even end up dropping out of school.
“Everything comes crashing down,” she said. “They go back to being an illegal immigrant. Their only hope is to stand outside Home Depot and hope somebody picks them up” for day labor work.
Francisco, who crossed the border to the United States in Tijuana with others by car several years ago, worries that he won’t be able to fulfill his dream of going to college if he has to return to Mexico.
“The kind of jobs there don’t pay enough to support an education,” Francisco said. “I want to study here and work here.”
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis @reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0285.