How many people in the US can claim they know an illegal alien? How about 20? Teaching Law and Civics exposes you to a huge number of 'illegal' students. I doubt most Minutemen and Tea-Baggers (that used to be sexual) know any. The human stories of my students would change their outlook.
Most of my 'illegal' students have compelling stories. They share their story with people they trust. Others out themselves with their line of questioning, the nervous look, and the fact that they only ask immigration questions when we are away from other students. "Mister, what do you think of the DREAM Act?" "Do you think the government will do anything about immigration?" "What do you think of illegal immigrants?" "How does somebody get papers?" "Why do Republicans hate us?" Every time I hear one of those questions it breaks my heart. I've heard so many stories. The recent Arizona Stasi law has made all of them uneasy. I thought I would share a few of their stories.
Mayra, One of my female students came out of the closet in her family history assignment. She told the story of her mother, who was smuggled across the border by a coyote, jumped off an overpass, rolled away from incoming traffic, and rode to safety in the trunk of a car. Her family is illegal, and worries everyday. Her family's history has instilled in her a respect for the standard of living they now enjoy, and a love of our country. She struggles with language, but has more perseverance than a dozen native born white kids. She takes nothing for granted. College is available, but money is not, especially if you are "out of state."
A freshman student of mine, Javier, outed himself after asking me nervously about the DREAM Act. I gave my honest opinion, how it should be passed, and how it would benefit our country. He is an A student, speaks 3 languages. He wants to be an engineer. His family fears being pulled over, being arrested, and returning to Mexico. They come from Juarez.
Daniel, one of my graduating seniors was born and lived in Mexico one month. He has spent his entire life in the US. Daniel is also an A student, and speaks 3 languages fluently. In my law class, he taught constitutional law to Somalis, Iranians, and native students. The other month he was pulled over and his car impounded. His family no longer has a car to get to work. College is an option to him also, but he cannot afford "out of state" tuition. Daniel would like to be a lawyer or teacher. Daniel says he may have to go to Mexico for college, and get stuck there. What a loss for our country.
All of these students are more American than Mexican. They embrace our culture, take nothing for granted, and want nothing more than to live the American dream. My 'illegal' students are more accomplished, and want to rise higher than the vast majority of my native students. For these kids, being deported would mean being sent to a foreign country.
In civics, one of my test questions was to examine the Arizona law, and argue whether it was or was not a likely violation of the14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. Because my native students know 'illegal' students, they knew better than the government of Arizona. Not only is it likely illegal, but wrong. If you are exposed to people who are demonized for no reason, reality wins over fallacy. For some people, citizenship is something given and taken for granted. For my 'illegal' students, it is something dreamt of, and used to its fullest. These are Americans in every sense but the law. Our country should embrace them. They are the American dream.