I find it painful to listen to their stories. We all do. We heard the stories of six Tucson area Latino and Latina students who were either seniors in high school or recent graduates. They were all near the top of their class, taking advanced placement and honors courses. They dream of college majors in everything from engineering to psychology. They speak fluent English and Spanish—and are wonderfully articulate in both.
I sit and listen with other UUs who are part of a study group visiting Tucson and the Arizona border. The BorderLinks nonprofit is making the arrangements. These students are receiving support from and working for an organization called ScholarshipsA-Z.
Their stories are painful to hear because none of these young people can go to college. Each one of them is undocumented. They came to the United States some years ago with their families. They entered school, studied hard, and did well. They are the kinds of young people colleges are dying to get, the kind that get scholarships to excellent colleges and universities. Now they are trapped. They can’t even get a job, for they have no social security number.
They watch as classmates who have poorer grades and lower test scores head off to colleges. These students have to fend off questions about where they are going to go to school next fall, because most of their teachers and classmates do not know they are undocumented. At worst, they face deportation.
On a personal level, I am struck by how close I came to being one of them. I was a Latino high school kid with good grades and good test scores. I dreamed of higher education, but could not afford it. But I was born on this side of the border. So I was given a full tuition scholarship, then another, then another. I received an education at a private university my family could never have paid for. It shaped my entire life. Doors opened—a graduate fellowship, a Fulbright lecturership. I have been blessed with the gift of doing wonderfully fulfilling work. None of this would have happened if I did not have that birth certificate.
What madness! What human waste! I find myself wanting to scream. I find myself feeling as powerless as they are feeling. But I know that I am not powerless, that we are not powerless.
How very beautiful these young people are. How stubborn and yet fragile their hope is. What madness.