TUCSON, Ariz. -- I’ll refer to her as Leticia X.
She is undocumented, but has been in this country since the age of three and is a top student at her high school. Yet, unless the law changes soon, she will be unable to continue with her studies. She tells my students at the University of Arizona that it is wrong that she will not be able to attend college next year: “I consider myself a U.S. citizen. It’s the only country I’ve ever known.”
Her symbolic mother is Leticia A -- a student who set the legal precedent in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe in Texas, permitting undocumented students to be able to attend public K-12 schools, without having to pay exorbitant out-of-state tuition.
Today, Leticia X struggles to change this policy to include K-16 students. If out-of-state fees are exorbitant for out of state K-12 students, the rates are stratospheric for out-of-state college students, generally costing tens of thousands of dollars yearly.
Leticia X is part of a nationwide movement – nearly a decade old – to pass legislation that would permit students such as her, to be able to attend college at in-state rates. It’s called the DREAM Act. A majority of members of Congress support it, but since 2001, they’ve never been able to garner the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to bring it to a full vote (cloture). It even has a controversial provision that was injected into it that would permit students to also qualify for U.S. residency by first going into the military for two years. A terrible compromise, but even that has not worked.
It pains me that I cannot publicly identify Leticia X. The irony is that she, like many other DREAM students do identify themselves in public. Apparently, they are more trusting of government than I am.
You have to understand, she was making her plea before my students in Arizona – the New South. It’s also the Old South.
Last week, I took my students to witness Operation Streamline, a Homeland Security program that targets undocumented migrants in specific zones with immediate prosecution and deportation. Nothing I told them could prepare them for what they saw. Several left early, crying, unable to continue to witness what passes for a judicial proceeding.
Here, at Tucson’s Federal Court, there are daily tax-payer-funded show trials in which 70 to 80 defendants, undocumented migrants all, are convicted in one hour. It’s the racial element and the shackles around the ankles, waist and hands that shock the conscience.
In one hour, they are tried, convicted and deported or sent to a private prison (Corrections Corporation of America). It is the breakneck speed that profoundly damages the human spirit and the integrity of the courtroom. As one of my students commented: “They’re like cattle being led to the slaughter.”
But back to Leticia X. Her story is gut wrenching. She is bright and articulate, and hard-working to a fault. She studies even when she’s sick because she believes she has earned the right to go to college. She is, figuratively, a dream student.
If the law does not change by December, she will not be attending a U.S. college next year.
It is difficult to imagine why anyone would be opposed to seeing her go off to college. She knows no other home and barely speaks Spanish.
The larger tragedy is that her story is repeated 65,000 times every year nationwide. There would be many more, but many drop out, not seeing the point of continuing to attend high school. What I really want to do is call the National Hispanic Scholarship Foundation and ask them why they are opposed to creating a special fund to help the Leticia Xes of this nation. Nothing in the law prevents them from doing so.
However, Leticia X is undaunted and courageous. She tells me she has no problem with me using her true name. I dare not expose her to the Joe Arpaios and Lou Dobbs of the world.
President Barack Obama promised a humane solution to the immigration crisis. Humane? Yes. Leticia X is a full human being.
Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at XColumn@gmail.com