Last week I spent two days with a man, let’s call him Esteban. He was crew lead for a removal company. I was on hand for any last-minute queries about my friend’s goods and chattels, she having already departed the US.
We walked around the house, me pointing out the red dots on items not to be packed. Later, as standing before a pile of buff-coloured paper he wrapped plates, bowls, cups and saucers, we started chatting. He worked carefully and diligently as I sat, idle, at a table and chairs liberally splattered with red dots.
Esteban was from, er let’s pick Honduras, and had arrived in the US when he was seventeen. I did not ask how he arrived, though from his skimming of the details I gathered it was an illegal entry. I assume, if it was, he was one of the lucky ones not fleeced by immoral and greedy coyotes. That band of men, and some women, who take what little funds desperate people have when they attempt to cross into America illegally; rather like we are seeing with the refugees trying to reach Europe across the seas from the Middle East. Vile people with no compassion for the struggles of men, women and children desperate for a life free of violence, religious persecution and poverty.
In Honduras, Esteban, a tall sturdy young man, had been targeted as a potential gang member, and did not want any truck with that kind of life. On arrival he attended high school, his final year and never an easy time for a teenager to move schools, let alone countries, and not speaking a word of English. Not surprisingly he quit. Again his story became sketchy, and I did not pry. Instead I asked how he had learnt English, his facility with my mother tongue being good when speaking in simple terms. Television, he said, and talking to people like you. “Some ladies, dey don’ like talk me. Wan’ me work only. Oders, dey help me.”
I learnt he had a wife and two children, an eight and a six-year old. Boys. Both born in the US and therefore American citizens. I asked how old he was. Twenty-eight, I was told, as laughingly he added, “We Latinos, we hab babies early. Den we try make money. Differen’ to American. You British, yes? Same you?”
“I guess so. Mostly anyway,” I clarified. Esteban went on to tell me how he wanted his children to go to college, to speak not only Spanish and English, but also to learn another language.
“Chinese? Mebbe Arab?” he said. “Dey get education an’ language, dey get good job, no?”
“They certainly would,” I agreed.
“What about you?” I asked. “Would you go to college?”
“One day mebbe, my childrens mus’ finish first.”
I don’t know Esteban’s current immigration status, but here is a man with a limited education, doing his absolute utmost to provide a life of opportunity to his children. He has worked his socks off to get to lead a crew of removal men. He pays taxes. He contributes to society, as he hopes his two boys will when they reach maturity.
It is Esteban’s story, and many many others, which makes me livid the new Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is following through on a campaign promise to repeal a measure, signed into law by then Governor Rick Perry (also a Republican), allowing students who aren’t legal residents to attend public colleges and pay in-state tuition. A good law, and which has been emulated by 18 other states. It’s still not cheap, but $9,000 a year is significantly more manageable than $26,000.
The rabid Republican right in Texas are intent on repealing this law. Lomi Kriel in the Houston Chronicle reports, “The state’s most powerful business lobby, the Texas Association of Business, also supports keeping it, even though that position pits it against many Republicans.”
I believe every child has a right to healthcare and education, and thankfully there is no talk of attempting to challenge the Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling guaranteeing, despite immigration status, a child’s right to a public education.
I am not an advocate of a university education for all, believing vocational training and apprenticeships to be just as important. However encouraging affordable tertiary education for those who truly want it, is surely an incentive for young men and women who have finished three years of in-state high school, whatever their immigration status.
There will always be illegals, people desperate enough to take the incredible risks of entering a country without papers; the majority though being prepared to work for a safer and better life. Surely it is better to educate them, encourage them to contribute to the community in which they have chosen to live rather than to leave them on the edges of society, possibly throwing them at the mercy of the home-grown gangs roaming the underbelly of American life.
Esteban might not fit the exact criteria for in-state college education, but there are many young people with similar stories who do.
I am not advocating open borders, just open minds for those who do make it across the Rio Grande, or the Mediterranean.