The forgotten builders

December 31, 2011
By yiyijessicali SILVER, Gaithersburg, Maryland
yiyijessicali SILVER, Gaithersburg, Maryland
6 articles 1 photo 0 comments

The golden land…The place where dreams come true…freedom…equal opportunity… To any immigrant in our nation, these words can not be more familiar. The minute they step towards this strange land; whether by foot, bus, ship, or plane, they are confronted by intensely contending sentiments that will linger for a long time. For most, this grave step towards the unknown is like rolling the dice of fate. Whether it is the dazzling sunshine awaiting them across the desert, or some raging storms looming beyond the shore, our voyagers could only accept what befalls them. Much of the times, however, the landscape upon the horizon is not a pretty one. Hours of painstaking, low-wage labor, unendurable living qualities, and a complete exclusion from the American mainstream dehumanize immigrant(s) generation after generation. Their toils and resilience never won them respect, but rather hatred and disgust.

And finally, there came a glimpse of hope in 2006. Pioneered by Senators Hatch and Durbin, the bi-partisan DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act legislation attempts to qualify undocumented residents in the United States for status legalization after completing post-secondary education or serving for providing two years of military service. In that year, thousands of immigrants gathered at the National Capital Hill to voice their support despite the dangers of being caught by the INS. Still, Congress eventually refused to nod at its approval.

Last month, however, hopes sprout up again in a state with the highest concentration of immigrants. By a majority vote, the state legislature of California successfully passed both provisions of the DREAM Act—the first portion having been approved in July, the second portion in September—and received signature of Governor Jerry Brown. As indicated by the act, students who arrived in the country illegally under the age of 16 will be eligible to apply for state-college financial aids and other merit-based scholarships. After years of continuous antagonism from Governor Schwarzenegger, who decided to veto the bill four times during his term; immigrants could finally gather in celebration of the new array of opportunities ahead.

The first portion of the bill, AB130, allows illegal minors to apply for privately- sponsored scholarships originally closed to this group. In a sense, the act forbids private trust funds to set status-based exclusions in eligibility requirements. This provision has not stirred much contention among the Californian public. The next section, AB131, however, mandates the California State Department of Finance to ensure scholarship grants for undocumented students who’ve demonstrated exceptional performance in their high school years. The bill is scheduled to go in effect in 2013, when a projected twenty five hundred students will apply and receive the Cal Grants. About $5800 will be distributed to each qualified applicant, adding up to a total of $14.5 million government subsidies per year. A considerable portion of Californian constituents, upon hearing its passage, briskly voiced their discontent through webpages, letters addressed to the governor, and small-scale protests. Reiterating that taxpayer’s money should not go towards those who aren’t “contributing to communities,” some Californians view the act as the ultimate infringement upon their social privileges, a privilege undeserved.

More than half of the American population could trace their origin back to the Ellis Islands. Needless to say, almost all Americans, with the exception of Native Americans, are immigrants to this continent. Because of a difference in the chronological sequence of their arrival, the American “mainstream” class pictured itself as something superior. On the one hand, they command immigrants to intolerable labors, compensating barely enough to make ends meet as they clean the stench and acrid kitchen floors. Yet, they accuse of how immigrants don’t contribute economically to societies, that immigrants are essentially economic burdens for America.

No one gave permission for the first Europeans to enter the American continent; no one gave permission for them to eradicate native tribes to advance their territories. Immigrants nowadays are only striving for a second chance at life with their earnest labor. So on what grounds does the American public gain the right to cast looks of animosity towards its newcomers? Unless it’s for a fear that their supremacy will eventually be toppled by the diligence of immigrants.

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