My illegal status shouldn't keep me from learning
July 5, 2001
(Editor's Note: Luz Suarez is a pseudonym. The writer's name has been changed to protect her identity.)
I have a secret that I am afraid to share with anyone but my closest friends: I don't have papers; I'm an undocumented immigrant.
My father abandoned our family when I was little, and my mother was forced to raise us alone. There was no work in Mexico. So when I was 10 years old, she left me and my brother in the care of her best friend and went north to see if she could make a better life for us.
My mother crawled through sewer pipes full of rats and sludge to cross the border and eventually made her way to Chicago. She sent for us two years later. My brother and I were brought over by a smuggler -- known as a coyote -- who took us to a remote location where we had to squirm under a fence and then run for dear life.
I have never returned. Now I'm 21, and over the years, Chicago became my home and memories of Mexico faded. Although I speak Spanish with my mother, my primary language outside of the home is English. Most of my friends were born here and a lot of them don't know anything about my immigration status.
My mother's sacrifices motivated me to become a hard worker and do well in school. These days I attend a community college so I can one day become a teacher. To pay for my education, I spend nights and weekends bagging groceries.
Unfortunately, despite my good grades, I may not be able to stay in school much longer because I'm undocumented. This is my second community college because the first one kicked me out when I couldn't give them a Social Security number. A woman screamed at me and told me that if I couldn't provide a Social Security number, I would have to leave the school. It was humiliating, and I envisioned myself bagging groceries for the rest of my life.
So I went to another school and started the process all over again. But I fear it won't be long before the same thing happens and I'm forced to leave. In a city that faces a critical teacher shortage, it makes little sense to force some out of college who wants to become a teacher.
I recently learned that there is a bill pending in Congress to help people like me: young, undocumented residents who basically grew up in the United States and are now in high school or college. It would provide us a way to legalize our immigration status by proving that we have lived here for at least five years and that we have shown good moral character during that time. We would be able to get documents that would allow us to go to college and work, and, in turn, contribute to our new home.
With legal papers, I could stay in school and become a teacher. Then I could pass my love for education on to the children in my classroom. I could use my example to inspire them to overcome life's handicaps and hard knocks, and teach them that in America, every child has an opportunity for a better life.
Luz Suarez is a student living in Chicago. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.