Several years ago, I attended the First Supper, a community potluck for the Texas DREAM Act hunger strikers. A good friend, whose parents immigrated from Mexico and started their own business in San Antonio, invited me.
My friend was born here, and like many other families I knew growing up, her parents became U.S. citizens in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty initiative. Immigrants continued to cross into the United States, especially following the peso crash of the early 1990s, but they stayed in the shadows.
Unfortunately, their children did, too.
The proposed DREAM Act would have opened a path to the American dream for these young people.
That night, a Mexican-American filmmaker showed us a preview of his forthcoming film, a story depicting the true life – the challenges, hard work, and contributions – of immigrants in the U.S. “Before we can change minds,” he said, “we must change hearts.”
The film did not change enough hearts, or perhaps not the right ones, because the DREAM Act failed. While DACA was not the comprehensive immigration reform we needed, it allowed dreams to come true, thanks to former President Barack Obama taking the initiative.
Today, we are still without comprehensive reform and also without DACA.
I, too, am a Mexican immigrant. But I was lucky. My parents applied for green cards in 1971 and waited five years to receive them. Time is a luxury not all immigrants have. Lack of economic opportunity continues throughout many parts of Mexico and Central America. Even more devastating is the drug-related violence and extortion so many families are fleeing.
By 1976, we had our green cards and traveled the six hours from Monterrey to San Antonio, our adopted new home. We did not know the language. But neither did we fear being deported – and I am grateful for that.
I applied for U.S. citizenship as soon as I turned 18, and a world of opportunities opened up for me. One of them was participating in a Fulbright Fellowship focused on binational business in Mexico. While there, I toured the state of Jalisco with an economic development advisor who had tremendous passion for his job. He lamented his state’s labor drain to the U.S.
“They leave after we have invested in schooling and childhood social programs, once they are ready to work,” he said. “And the ones who leave, they are the hardest working, the risk takers, the ones we want in our labor force and helping to build our economy.”
His mission was to create economic opportunities to entice them to stay.
Today, it’s as if the tables are turned. We are losing those who chose to serve in our military, who are educating themselves on U.S. campuses, who were bold and tenacious enough to navigate the immigration system – the hard workers, the fighters, the dreamers.
I am somewhat encouraged by President Donald Trump’s statements this week about wanting to protect Dreamers. But these statements are so at odds with his previous indifference toward these young people and their loved ones that I wonder if his sentiments won’t swing once again against Dreamers. I truly hope they don’t.
But whatever action the president and Congress take, these are the facts about our Dreamers:
They know no home but ours. They are American. And with the right paperwork, they would be no different from me.