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Is the DREAM over???...

dream.jpg

Forty-eight hours. That is what comes to mind when I think about my immigration experience. I had just begun my second term of boarding school (Form 2A). Slowly letting go of memories of being home and reluctantly getting into the strict routine of carrying out tasks in synchrony with the timing of the school bell. It was a sunny cloudless day, the bell had just struck for afternoon recess. In the courtyard, there was a flurry of red skirts and peach blouses. Shrieks of glee as friends from different classrooms embraced each other and joyfully took off walking hastily in the direction of their respective dormitories. I was elated at the much welcomed relief from another long lecture and could not wait to dig in to a nice bowl of soaked garri and groundnuts. Suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted by a voice - “Sharon, your father is looking for you?”- I hesitated for a moment, thinking to myself “It cannot be… Papa just dropped me off at the beginning of the school term. Why is he here?”. Within 48 hours, I was at the airport in Douala, Cameroon bidding goodbye to my family and being handed off to a lady I did not know who was to escort me to America. Forty-eight hours later, my Air France flight landed at Washington Dulles International Airport. So began my American immigrant experience fourteen years ago.

I am fortunate to have all my immediate family with me in America. The immigration door was opened for us when my mother won a green card through the diversity lottery (DV) program. As a dependent I automatically qualified. For me, the green card is not just a symbol of my legal status. It means having access and I equate it to freedom. Access to school loans and/or scholarships to pursue higher education and no international travel restrictions because I am legally recognized as a resident of the United States. In a sense, enjoying almost the same privileges as an American citizen except the right to vote in any political election.

A little over 5 years ago, I had a conversation with a friend that sadly reminded me of the power of one’s status in the United States. She had received the dreaded phone call that her mother had died. My friend was trapped in America. Without papers, leaving meant a high probability of being unable to return. After hanging up the phone, her words – “My mama has left this world” – kept echoing in my mind. It seemed so unfair to me. She, like so many others, was brought to America at a young age by family members who believed in the opportunities that are available in the Unites States. Being in the United States would mean a chance to receive a proper education, health care, good food, not worrying about being kidnapped or assaulted. These families believe that in America, their children can grow up to get a job that will allow them to raise funds to send back to their home countries and perhaps elevate their families’ status. Children like my friend are often selected to travel to America, even when the rest of the family cannot afford to come, because of the assurance of a promising future.

Unbeknownst to many parents, there is often one sizable limitation: the lack of a legal status. Often, such individuals don’t even realize what their status is until after their high school graduation, when they are prevented from progressing in their academic studies. I can only imagine filling out college board applications and FAFSA (Free application for federal student aid) – sharing with friends in the excitement of this whole process, and wondering “Which school will accept me, and how much tuition aid will I be awarded?” – only to find out later that the sole reason for disqualification was not a lack of scholastic competitiveness but because of being in America illegally.

Sadly, heart-breaking experiences like this one never make it to the forefront of policy making. Of concern to those involved in the immigration reform struggle is the mere fact of illegal immigrants sneaking into the country. What about families who have to endure living in separation? Sometimes, as in my friend’s circumstances, a tragic situation in which families come together to heal and console one another is a grim reminder of some of the unspoken pains of immigration. The children caught in this situation – unable to leave the country to care for sick family members or grieve for those lost – typically have very limited ties, or even none at all, to extended family members in their country of origin. Any immigration reform law will significantly affect the lives of families.

Perhaps someday the U.S. legislature will pass comprehensive immigration reform that will be considerate of families like my friend’s. Unfortunately, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) legislation proposal was once again passed over by the U.S. Senate in December 2010. The DREAM Act states that an undocumented or illegal youth is eligible for a conditional path to citizenship either by completing 2 years in an institute of higher learning or 2 years service in the military. Approximately 65,000 youth are unable to pursue their dreams and realize their life goals because of their undocumented status. Since its first introduction in 2001 during the 107th congress, the DREAM Act has been passed over up until the 110th congress in December 2010. I believe this Act would allow youth who have come to call America home the opportunity to work towards their dreams and grow up to be contributing members of its society.

The United States of America was founded by immigrants and over its 235 yrs of existence, it is continuously enriched and shaped at its very core by immigrants just like when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Immigrants often embark on a quest for freedom from injustice, new economic opportunities, educational aspirations and professional advancements. They also often tend to retain their national and ethnic identities that add and sometimes transforms the communities into which they immigrate.

Even though the DREAM ACT has been continuously passed over by the U.S. government, there has been mass mobilization, rallying support for comprehensive immigration reform. For example, The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America was an impressively launched mass mobilization nationwide movement, organizing over 100 events in 28 states. The Reform Immigration FOR America campaign was launched by a coalition composed of over 700 faith, labor, business, progressive, and immigration reform groups unified to raise awareness in communities across America about immigration reform and support the passage of a comprehensive legislation. The 2010 campaign included town hall meetings, marches, vigils, and other rallies across America. One of such rallies took place in my former state of residence Virginia. Teresa Stanley, of the Virginia Organizing Project, implored that “we want action from our elected leaders. Too many Virginian families are feeling the effects of a severe recession, and comprehensive immigration reform will put us on the road to economic recovery. We need reform now.”

Polling data released by America’s Voice, a group that conducts public opinion research and provides communications on immigration reform, demonstrated that most Americans supported comprehensive immigration reform, including 69% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans. Additionally, even comments by conservatives who supported the DREAM Act suggest a compassionate understanding of the immigrant’s life. Linda Chavez, an official in Reagan’s administration and now a conservative political commentator, made a powerful plea for just immigration reform: “Do Republicans really want to tell young people who have lived here most of their lives, who may speak no other language but English, and who are even willing to sacrifice themselves on the battlefield for the protection of all Americans: ‘We don't want you’?”

Some critics argue that immigration reform will be economically costly. But evidence points to a different conclusion. The Center for American Progress and Immigration Policy Center published an economic report entitled “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform“ which highlights that implementing comprehensive immigration reform would bolster the U.S. economy. Research conducted by Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, founding director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, demonstrates that creating “a legalization process for unauthorized workers would, in the long term (10 years) yield $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, and in the short term (3 years) generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional tax revenue and consumer spending sufficient to support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs”. Most of the children that enter the United State illegally tend to be accompanied by illegal guardians or guardians whose visa status has expired. Additionally, providing a legitimate legalization process in which immigrant families can work and live peaceably in the United States would prevent the huge cost of deporting the illegal immigrants, of which there are currently 12million living in the United States.

Most immigrants are either starting over, establishing their families, or taking advantage of better opportunities, and are typically law-abiding. The diversity immigrants bring to their communities makes America beautiful and rich in culture. The improvements that immigration reform would bring to America are not limited to immigrants themselves; we stand to be a better country by adopting a more generous immigration policy. Allowing for more streamlined immigration regulations would provide national safety from implementing systematic screening processes, increases economic growth due to more consumer spending, and homegrown innovative technologies from intellectuals being afforded the opportunity to learn and work in America. Further, immigration reform will preserve the most important fabric of our society and key to national development – the family. Families united whether geographically or just being able to travel across borders internationally. I will forever remain hopeful that immigration reform will come to pass in America.

Which is why, in my own way I join in the fight to educate others about the immigrants’ experience. Through a personal endeavor the “Threads of Our Fabric Project”, I seek to capture the voices of African women and girls sharing stories of their lives wherever life has planted them. My focus in the United States is on young African ladies (15-24) uniting to share, empower, and support each other through their unique immigrant experience. Perhaps if more understood the reason why we migrate and on occasion the dire necessity of leaving some of our circumstances, just maybe there is hope for comprehensive immigration reform. Until better legislation is instituted, my heart carries these words from Dr. King “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Emie Zozobrado's picture

Hi Sharon!

Oh well, the glorious trip to the Land of Milk and Honey - the American Dream! Sister, I have lots of friends and cousins who have been living in the USA since as far as I could remember, who conquered the odds to reach the "greener pastures". Although many of them retained their Filipino citizenship, and a few have dual (American-Filipino) status, when they occasionally come home as "Balikbayan", they always share with us their tales of woe in a country not their own. That's right, immigration is such a huge battle. Being uprooted is one thing, and adjusting to a strange environment and an alien culture is tougher. But, most of all, immigrants have to live with laws and rights which favor and are almost exclusive to natural-born citizens. Anyway, with the global community embracing each other in one big family now, it is not impossible that becoming a "global citizen" anywhere in this world, in the USA or elsewhere, will become as easy as being born and bred in your own country. You see, World Pulse is one such "global community". All the best...

Always,
Emie Zozobrado

SAsong's picture

Thanks Emie

We call such returners "bush-fallers"...and it is a very unique experience that I aim to capture in my project Threads of Our Fabric Project. Raising awareness about the plight of immigrants and sharing it for policy makers to hear, I think has a weight unto the decisions that are made that impact them. My main objective though is to start conversations among young African ladies and find ways to help them with the transition process. Stay tuned for more to come!

Thank you for reading my piece and sharing your comments. Hugz!!!

Amei's picture

As long as we dare to dream

... The dream can never be over. You have dream, I have a dream...

It is nice and gives me a feel of connection when learning about the people in the WP community.

All the best dear girl :-)

Cheers
Amei

SAsong's picture

I too continue to dream...

Forever optimistic I guess!! I am so glad to be part of the WP community and taking this journey with incredible, inspirational ladies. Hugz!

SAsong's picture

I too continue to dream...

Forever optimistic I guess!! I am so glad to be part of the WP community and taking this journey with incredible, inspirational ladies. Hugz!

Breese's picture

Sharon - thank you for

Sharon - thank you for sharing your story and for working so hard to promote awareness of the importance, value, and rights of the immigrant community.

SAsong's picture

Thanks Breese!

For reading my piece...I really enjoyed writing it. It brought back memories to my unique experience and encouraged me to continue working on my project Threads of Our Fabric. Hugz!!!

Fungai Machirori's picture

This resonates...

Thanks for this piece Sharon. As someone who has personally witnessed the mass exodus of Zimbabweans to 'greener pastures' over the last decade, I understand what turmoil illegal immigrants might experience. Not only is there this new environment to adapt to, but also this feeling of secon-class citizenship because you cannot fully partake in the socio-political and cultural aspects of this new land. You are foreign. You are 'the other'.

Thank you for highlighting this important topic. Well written piece and I loved the description at the beginning of your own experience. I was almost there waiting for the garri and groundnuts too!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

SAsong's picture

Very true!

Hahaha..yes, the garri and groundnuts! I take it you know this student delicacy too!!...I felt it was a piece worth sharing because of the lives behind the stories. Many see America as a fantasy and will do almost anything to get there. I have seen stories of boats wrecked on shores, horor stowaway stories on planes and boats...its scary but that's the reality. Someday there will be comprehensive reform that allows for access to opportunities and resources without fear. Thanks for reading and sharing your comments. I will be housing my project here - Threads of Our Fabric Project.

Kristin Miller's picture

Excellent piece, SAsong!

Sharon,

I am so impressed with your article-- you've successfully tackled a very important issue, supporting it with facts, opinions, and personal experiences. Technically, your writing is excellent: strong vocabulary, good organization, and easy to read.

In particular, I liked how you circled back to the ways in which you are *acting* in support of your beliefs and of the cause. This together with a connection to the teachings of Dr. King (so poignant this time of year), I am left with a vibrant sense of optimism.

Very, very well done, Sharon! I commend you!

Kristin

SAsong's picture

Thanks Kristin

For your gracious feedback on this piece. I really enjoyed writing this article. It brought back memories and forced me to reflect on my experience as an immigrant. I am indebted to my midwife Tara, who truly is a God sent mid-wife in helping me refine my voice :-)

Being a VOF'er has been incredible and continues to amaze me. Thanks again for reading my humble thoughts on immigration from my point of view. Hugz!!!

CoachMarcie's picture

You inspire me!

Sharon,

I feel so lucky and blessed to be a part of your journey. You truly have a voice that we all want to listen to and learn from. I am once again blown away from your assignment. Your experience as an immigrant tells a powerful story. Your path is clear and I can see that doors are opening up for you. What a talent you have. Keep it up girlfriend.

Love,
Marcie

Best,
Marcie

SAsong's picture

Hey Marcie

Thank you!!! It triggered recollection of tons of memories that I had subconsciously locked away. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Thank you for the kind words too! Hugz!!!

Farona's picture

Waw! You have articulated

Waw! You have articulated your words so clearly and concisely. My country also has a large immigrant community and I can empathise with the emotions and debates around immigrants. In my country, immigrants who have lived here for 30+ years are still considered ‘foreigners’

You wrote “Some critics argue that immigration reform will be economically costly.” Yes we have the same mentality here, to my surprise; policy makers do not comprehend the benefits of legalizing and providing opportunities to the youth of immigrant parents.

I am proud of you for taking a step ahead of everyone by starting your project ;- )
Looking forward to learn from you more sis !

SAsong's picture

Thanks Farona

For your encouraging words and reading my piece. I believe there needs to be increased and continuous sensitization to migration. I have met amazingly talented youth who are unable to apply themselves. Ending up in situations not by choice but by circumstance. Thanks again. Hugz!!!

Farona's picture

I absolutely agree sis, Youth

I absolutely agree sis, Youth should be given opportunities to apply themselves. Why waste their energy ! every country needs them ! Really appreciate your piece ;- )

SAsong's picture

Youth

I believe youth are the most important resource and investment opportunity for any country. They are so eager and innovative. When challenged in exciting new intellectually stimulating ways, they are able to apply themselves in novel ways.

SAsong's picture

Youth

I believe youth are the most important resource and investment opportunity for any country. They are so eager and innovative. When challenged in exciting new intellectually stimulating ways, they are able to apply themselves in novel ways.

Nancy J. Siegel's picture

Wonderful piece!

Your article is very compelling! You write very clearly and convincingling. Perhaps more Americans would push for passage of the DREAM Act if they read your piece and understood the plight of undocumented immigrant youngsters growing up in this country--Americans in almost every respect, except for the full rights of citizenship.

It is also good to remind Americans that we are ALL immigrants or descendents of immigrants, except for the Native Americans we so cruelly dispossessed (but there's another story), and our great diversity is what has made us a vibrant nation.

How good it is that you have undertaken your "Threads of Our Fabric Project." I would like to learn more about it. Keep up the good writing work!!!

Nancy Siegel

SAsong's picture

Thanks Nancy

For reading this piece and sharing your wonderful comments. I was recently talking to a friend whose H1B visa will not be renewed. It is very hard to watch many who just want to work and create a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

Threads of Our Fabric Project is weaving the life stories of African women and girls in the Diaspora and Africa. I believe in the power of personal stories. When people meet a face and hear a life, it has more of an impact on their conscience, because it is easy to dismiss data. The data in this case is very limited for immigrants because many are not counted in the census.

My project has just been incredible. Me and my camcorder on a mission to capture African women's voices within their communities on issues that they find important. In some cases, presenting and implementing solutions. By May 2011, I will be streaming videos on the blog as well as writing pieces reflecting some general themes. I will keep you posted. Thanks again for your support :-)

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Beautiful!

What a beautiful, compassionate and solutions oriented piece you have written here. You blend your experience as an immigrant, as well as an American living here since the age of 13, into a very compelling piece for immigration reform and empathy. I love the way you finish the piece promoting the DREAM ACT, and your project. Very masterfully done frontline journal.

Keep up the good work,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

SAsong's picture

Thank you!

so much for the encouraging words :-) I do believe in dreams becoming realities...World pulse has given me a strength and vision to pursue that which calls me daily. I remember so clearly hearing that this experience will be transformative when I began this journey a few months ago...it has and continues to be just that. Heartfelt gratitude to you and the entire World Pulse team for being my awakening portal into an amazing life of purpose. Hugz!

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