Meet Teresa Serrano. From 2006 to 2010, Serrano appeared to be a typical Yale student — she studied history and anthropology, spent much of her time volunteering for local non-profits, and, all in all, enjoyed a fairly normal Yale experience. But since her graduation in 2010, Serrano has spent her days pulling long shifts at fast food joints and laundromats. This may not seem a typical post-grad path; but Serrano, it turns out, is not a typical Yale alumna. For one thing, Teresa Serrano is not her real name. For another, she is an illegal immigrant.
I recently read about Serrano in an article in the Huffington Post that had originally appeared in the New Journal. Serrano was brought to this country from Honduras — illegally — when she was 13 months old; her past has dogged her steps ever since. Serrano has excelled academically and athletically, eventually matriculating to Yale, but she cannot find true success without valid citizenship. So, by no fault of her own, Teresa Serrano is stuck.
Serrano may be without a job and without prospects, but she is not without hope. Serrano has one hope: the DREAM Act. The act would grant permanent residence status — legality — to an illegal immigrant who was brought here as a child and will now attend college or join the military. The DREAM Act recently became law in Connecticut, but it has few prospects of becoming a national policy. Congress failed to pass the DREAM act in the last legislative session, and there is no significant force seeking to change that.
As Americans and current Connecticut residents, we should be appalled. We should be proud of this state, but appalled at Congress for failing to follow Connecticut’s example.
There is so much demagoguery in modern politics about illegal immigration. Most everyone agrees that we should attempt to secure our border and prevent more illegal immigration — but what to do about the illegals that are already living here? Barack Obama and most Democrats support a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants: those who will attend college or serve in the military. Republicans Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and other Tea Party candidates do not support the DREAM Act. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman do appear to support it, but they have no vote in Congress. And the purportedly sensible Mitt Romney strongly opposes the DREAM Act, often proudly reminiscing about vetoing similar legislation. I am appalled.
America could not survive without illegal immigrants. We need them. It is a truth that few like to hear and fewer accept, but it is a truth nonetheless. Illegal immigrants comprise as much as 70 percent of our agricultural workforce, and agriculture is a dominant national industry. Illegal immigrants do jobs that no one else wants — dirty, difficult, unglamorous jobs. But to be clear, the DREAM Act wouldn’t even help those immigrants.
It would help people like Teresa Serrano. It would provide a path to citizenship to only those most productive and most promising illegal immigrants. It would help the 65,000 eligible men and women each year who are stranded in limbo. And it would help each one of us, because we need more college graduates and we need more soldiers.
America is rapidly falling behind the rest of the world in terms of academic achievement, and yet those who oppose the DREAM Act would block tens of thousands of new college students. America needs soldiers to fight our wars (and defend our borders), yet some would oppose tens of thousands of new, otherwise eligible soldiers. Those who oppose the DREAM Act are actively worsening the lives of hundreds of thousands of bright young people. They are actively harming America.
Forty-four members of the Senate refused to vote for cloture, and thus for the DREAM Act in 2010. Who can oppose legislation that would help those who deserve it the most? Who can oppose legislation that, according the Congressional Budget Office, would actually decrease the deficit? This issue is such a no-brainer that it’s hard not to be appalled by our legislators’ intransigence.
Eleven million illegal immigrants live in this country — many have jobs and pay taxes. But only a fraction of them would be eligible for the DREAM Act. Perhaps it is worth remembering that complete amnesty has been granted to illegal immigrants seven times since 1986, and one of the presidents who did so was Ronald Reagan. But that could never happen today. The society we live in is too fraught with fear and laced with xenophobia. Sensible legislation — helping the best and brightest illegal immigrants — has little chance of passage. Yet we can dream.
As Teresa Serrano said, the DREAM Act is “the only hope for myself and for the hundreds of thousands of dreamers in the U.S. who have been deprived of basic human rights.” If you too feel that hundreds of thousands of young people still deserve the right to dream, please write your congressperson today. I, for one, am tired of feeling appalled.
Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College.