For those of you who - like me - are
woefully ignorant about immigration, meet Amanda.
An A student at Greenwich High School,
a volunteer tutor, she is a teenage leader who loves watching "The
OC" and listening to Coldplay. She dreams of the Ivy League
and making her mark in America.
She can forget about it.
Amanda is an undocumented immigrant.
Legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives would
make her a felon. She is a child.
We can debate about erecting fences
at the borders or fining employers who hire the undocumented to
do the jobs that Americans don't want. But what's the point of punishing
"I have grown up here. I am in
most ways American," said Amanda, who asked that her last name
not be published. We talked over soft drinks one afternoon at a
pizza place near her high school about how she always thought she
would be an American success story - even though her family can't
Outside, classmates in BMWs and Volvos,
with their lacrosse sticks and iPods, buzzed on by. We talked about
how her future has suddenly lurched to a stop: No green card, no
"My whole life I grew up thinking
Columbia or NYU," said Amanda, who is 17. "It's like,
wow, was I wrong."
Amanda was reminded of this when she
appeared on a Danbury radio program. Callers suggested that Amanda
and those like her should get the hell back to Brazil if they are
Brilliant. Let's take it out on children
who came with their parents. So what if public schools have educated
her since the third grade.
Among the 1.8 million undocumented
children, there are an estimated 65,000 teenagers about to graduate
like Amanda, at least 200 in Connecticut, hoping to go college.
Should we just ship them back?
Why not just bar them from our public
schools? That way they won't turn into honor students and make us
Of course, Amanda is probably good
enough to get into any of the half dozen schools she is applying
to. But she can't afford them. As a foreign student, she isn't eligible
for financial aid.
There's no option of in-state tuition
at the University of Connecticut, a school that would be lucky to
land a young woman such as Amanda. State legislators last year rejected
a bill that would have given students such as Amanda in-state rates,
a $13,000 savings. Supporters say there wasn't enough backing to
try to get the bill passed this year.
It's not exactly radical. Across the
country, nine states - including Texas and California - have laws
that allow in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants.
Amanda and her friends are trying to
muster support for a federal law, the Dream Act, that would allow
undocumented students here for more than 5 years to go to college
and become legal residents of the U.S. It's going nowhere at the
moment, although it has bipartisan support.
At a church in Stamford one recent
evening, Amanda and others urged the group of 100 or so students
and their parents to speak out. A man near me quietly said he'd
been here for 11 years and his teenage son doesn't even speak Spanish.
"His whole life is here," he said.
Tough luck, I thought. But then I drove
home to my world where it's easy to forget that succeeding in life
isn't just about working hard. I kept thinking about Amanda's world,
which is getting closer to my world.
"I know how hard I've worked.
How could it not pay off?" Amanda told me. "Not going
to college, that's unimaginable."
Yes, it is.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at