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Winner of the CEP Mildred Garcia Award for Exemplary Scholarship
About 2.4 million children and young adults under 24 years of age are undocumented. Brought by their parents to the US as minors—many before they had reached their teens—they account for about one-sixth of the total undocumented population. Illegal through no fault of their own, some 65,000 undocumented students graduate from the nation's high schools each year. They cannot get a legal job, and face enormous barriers trying to enter college to better themselves—and yet America is the only country they know and, for many, English is the only language they speak.
What future do they have? Why are we not capitalizing, as a nation, on this pool of talent that has so much to contribute? What should we be doing?
Through the inspiring stories of 16 students—from seniors in high school to graduate students—William Perez gives voice to the estimated 2.4 million undocumented students in the United States, and draws attention to their plight. These stories reveal how—despite financial hardship, the unpredictability of living with the daily threat of deportation, restrictions of all sorts, and often in the face of discrimination by their teachers—so many are not just persisting in the American educational system, but achieving academically, and moreover often participating in service to their local communities. Perez reveals what drives these young people, and the visions they have for contributing to the country they call home.
Through these stories, this book draws attention to these students’ predicament, to stimulate the debate about putting right a wrong not of their making, and to motivate more people to call for legislation, like the stalled Dream Act, that would offer undocumented students who participate in the economy and civil life a path to citizenship.
Perez goes beyond this to discuss the social and policy issues of immigration reform. He dispels myths about illegal immigrants’ supposed drain on state and federal resources, providing authoritative evidence to the contrary. He cogently makes the case—on economic, social, and constitutional and moral grounds—for more flexible policies towards undocumented immigrants. If today’s immigrants, like those of past generations, are a positive force for our society, how much truer is that where undocumented students are concerned?
Perez, a developmental psychologist and professor in Southern California, plumbs the stories of students living with the constant threat of deportation for an answer to the question, "What does it mean to be an American?" Raised in this country by parents who gained access illegally, the 16 high school, college and post-graduate students profiled here (standing in for 65,000 nationwide) have each embraced our language, culture and collective dream, but are denied pathways to success. Perez, who has worked at a variety of research institutions, including the RAND Corporation and the Standford Institute for Higher Education Research, makes a compelling argument for changing legislation on many fronts, including bottom line economics. Vitally, he argues, undocumented students are prevented from giving back to the communities that have raised them, thus limiting the country itself. No matter what one's position is on legalizing immigrants, this collection of inspiring, heartbreaking stories puts a number of unforgettable faces to the issue, making it impossible to defend any one side in easy terms or generalities.
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PART I: HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
1) Penelope: “I know for a fact my success is because of my relentless determination”;
2) Jaime: “It’s almost like I am tied down to the ground with a ball and chain because I don’t have citizenship”;
3) Jeronimo: “It’s like someone giving you a car, but not putting any gas in it”;
4) Lilia: “I want a chance to work in an office with air conditioning rather than in the fields under the hot sun”;
PART II: COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENTS
5) Daniella: “I’ve always had a passion for community service”;
6) Isabel: “They say you can accomplish whatever you want or set your mind to, but they don’t say that it’s just for some”;
7) Lucila: “I don’t belong here because I don’t have my papers, so it’s kind of like I’m in limbo”;
8) Paulina: “I catch the bus at 5:15 a.m., I literally sleep with my clothes on”;
PART III: UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
9) Angelica: “I think I will do something big, I just need a chance”;
10) Sasha: “You'll never get an ‘A’ in my class because you’re a dirty Mexican”;
11) Eduardo: “I’m restricted in joining clubs, participating in school events, taking on leadership roles…it’s a bit damaging in the long-run”;
12) Raul: “I am always limited in what I can do”;
PART IV: COLLEGE GRADUATES
13) Lucia: “The biggest disappointment is knowing that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel”;
14) Michael: “It’s like a wound that never heals”;
15) Julieta: “Being undocumented is really depressing”;
16) Alba: “I know I want to be a high school math teacher, but I can’t”;
PART V: DOCUMENTED COLLEGE GRADUATES
17) Jessica: “I wanted to be a public interest lawyer, the kind that helps the community”;
18) Julia: “I would really like to teach college students, be involved in the educational system”;
19) Ignacio: “I would probably be working as a truck driver…earning minimum wage”;
20) Nicole: “Working with the students who are the most underserved….That kind of work is very meaningful to me”