December 17, 2010 — Leave a comment

In the early eighties a little boy, five years old, was held on his mother’s lap as they, and his sister and brother, both a little older, held on tight to the slippery wet sides of the makeshift raft of inner tubes their father hauled, waist and sometimes neck deep, across the Rio Grande from Mexico to America one afternoon, just before nightfall. They were illegal immigrants originally from Guatamala by way of British Honduras, now Belize.

The Sanchez family were fortunate. They had capital albeit a limited amount, contacts in the Lone Star State and Mr. Sanchez entered the US on a business visa. It was only after his wife attempted to cross legally three weeks later and was rejected, that the river crossing became the chosen avenue of entry for the family. A vehicle hidden on a lonely stretch of road and a place to stay were hastily arranged. Mr. Sanchez slipped back into Mexico, collected his family, and after clambering up the bank to America, settled in Houston.

In 1986 then president, Ronald Reagan, announced an amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants. The Sanchez family fitted the criteria and began their journey to legality. Max, the little boy, slotted into the education system. He already spoke some English, as did his sister and brother, having been schooled in Belize where English and Spanish were taught side by side. His father and mother’s English was limited though. Their father, an enterprising man and not afraid of hard work, found employment in an Italian restaurant as a busboy and then server. Little by little, paso a paso, enough money was saved from first that job, and then from a second-hand goods shop he set up, to buy a house.

The Sanchez story, though they faced many difficulties along the way, is a success. Timing was on their side. But for many children brought into the United States illegally the story is not so straightforward. Babies, youngsters – have no notion of life-changing discussions taking place over diapers and dinner. They trustingly believe their parents have only their best interests at heart, and mostly they do. Those children should not be penalised for decisions made by their parents.

The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act is in the drawn-out process of, hopefully, being passed into law. The House, with a majority of 216 – 198 passed its version of the bill on December 8th, and now we wait for the Senate vote which does not promise to be plain sailing.

The bill would allow young men and women brought into America illegally before the age of sixteen, who have lived here at least five years and either served in the military or been to college for two years, to apply before their thirtieth birthday for temporary protected status for which they would have to pay $2,500. Applications would have to be made within one year of completing the educational or military requirements and once passed, the normal ten year wait before becoming eligible for full citizenship would apply.

It does not, as many of those against the bill insist, open the floodgate for immigrants or provide a free pass for the parents who brought the child over in the first place. The parents, if they wish to be given consideration for the right to immigrate legally, would have to return to their place of birth and wait ten years before becoming eligible to apply for entry on the coattails of their now ‘legal’ child.

What the Dream Act would do is allow these illegal young men and women who have grown up in this country and have only vague memories of another, who have been educated at the tax-payer’s expense, who have either served the country in the military or proved hard-working and ambitious students, to repay that debt of a free education.

Young men like Max who now, through entrepreneurship and hard graft, employs twelve Americans in his coffee shop, Catalina’s, named for the mother who held him on her lap all those years ago as they came to America.

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