The Thing Is, I’m Undocumented

This is Oumou Troure. She’s an all-American girl who grew up in Boston and loves the Celtics, playing the saxophone, and window-shopping on Newbury Street. She’s also one of the 65,000 kids in the U.S. who graduate high school each year but aren’t legal residents. So even though she’s been accepted to college, she can’t get a loan to pay for it. She can’t get a job to support herself, either. When she tells me this, I step closer, ignoring my parents’ constant warnings to never talk about what I’m about to say — you can never tell who’s listening. “I know what you’re going through,” I whisper.

Oumou Troure

Oumou Troure photo by Rania Matar

It’s Senior Grant Night at Boston Arts Academy, the city’s only public high school for the performing and visual arts. Squirming in blazers and ties, the students stand in front of display boards and laptops, part of the presentations they’ve put together for arts programs they’re proposing to lead in city neighborhoods. Imagine a science fair without the science. Professionals from the community wander the classroom, evaluating the proposals.

Oumou Troure is rocking back and forth in kitten heels. Her display is bare-bones, some printouts pasted to a board, and she doesn’t look at the three of us judges as she explains her project, a combination jazz concert and storytelling event that involves undocumented teen immigrants talking about what life is like without papers. Oumou tells us that she’d like for her project to raise awareness about the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The proposed federal law, she says, would create a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants who’ve been living in the U.S. for years after they were brought here as children. Suddenly, Oumou falters and brushes tears from her face. “The thing is,” she says, wiping the tears on her pants,“I’m undocumented myself.”

We listen, captivated, as she tells us that she was born in Cape Verde in 1994 and lived there with her father while her mother traveled back and forth to the U.S. Her mother left the islands for good in 2000, sending for Oumou a year later, when she was seven. Oumou came to the States on a nonimmigrant visa for temporary visitors and began living life as an American. Virtually indistinguishable from a citizen, she pledged allegiance to the flag at school, made friends, and dreamed of having a career and buying a house. When her visa expired in 2006, she hardly noticed. Her life was here now.

But now at 18, after a decade in the country, Oumou is coming to understand exactly what it means to be here without documentation. It’s November, and in seven months she’ll graduate. When she does, she will be one of the 65,000 undocumented students who earn high school diplomas every year in the U.S. Lacking citizenship or legal residency, Oumou won’t be able to access federal financial aid for college, and she’ll be barred from joining the military or even working to support herself.

Oumou tells us that the DREAM Act would give individuals like her eligibility for conditional permanent resident status, a first step toward citizenship and everything that it provides. But there’s no telling when or if the act will actually pass and become law. Oumou says she has no idea how she’ll pay for college, but she’s going to fill out the applications anyway. It’s only autumn. Maybe something will change in the next year.

One of my fellow judges leans in and touches Oumou’s hand. “You’ve inspired us,” she says, promising to donate money to an immigration-advocacy organization. When the woman asks what else she can do to help, I want to suggest that she can pay Oumou’s college tuition while we all wait and see what happens with the DREAM Act. But I don’t. As the others move on, I step closer to Oumou, ignoring my parents’ constant warning to never talk about what I’m about to say. You never know who is listening. “I know what you’re going through,” I whisper. “When I was a high school student, I was undocumented, too.”

“Really?” Oumou exclaims. “You?”

Yes, me. I was a teenager when I learned from my successful physician parents that I was actually an “illegal alien.” America was the only country I knew, yet it turned out that I had no legal right to remain within its borders. It was a painful period, a time I haven’t thought about, much less spoken of, in years. I’ve had no reason to.

I tell Oumou to maintain hope, maybe the DREAM Act will pass. If it does, she won’t have to fear being detained every time she leaves home. She’ll get a Social Security number, a driver’s license, a bank account. She’ll be able to legally work and pay for higher education with financial aid. If it doesn’t pass, though, I know what she knows — that she’s probably screwed. Estimates are that just 5 to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates attend college. Many end up working under the table in the cash economy. I know this. But it’s one thing to read statistics about undocumented youth and another to stand across from a wide-eyed high school student caught in this predicament. “You’ll be fine,” I assure her.

“I will?” she asks.

We exchange contact information. “Keep in touch,” I say. “If there’s anything you need….”

Oumou grasps my business card, jumping up and down as if she’s just won the lottery. She hugs me. I’m not really sure what’s going on. Has she misinterpreted my empathy for some kind of promise, a commitment to help?

I move on to the next student presentation, but I’m distracted. I glance at Oumou. She’s chatting loudly with friends, and a judge finally shushes them quiet. Later, as I walk out the school’s glass doors, I recall the anticipation I’d felt during senior year. While I didn’t know which colleges would accept me, I knew for sure I’d be going. But what would happen to Oumou?

Oumou Troure

Oumou Troure photo by Rania Matar

The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001. Though it’s come close to becoming law, it never quite has. Two years ago the House passed the bill, but it fell five votes short of moving forward in the Senate. Massachusetts’ senators split on it, with John Kerry voting yes and Scott Brown no.

Over the years, variations on the act have also been put forward, most of them containing similar conditions for people who were brought to the country as children to be given legal status — graduation from high school, good moral character, and so on. Where they differ is in precisely who would be eligible and what the benefits would be. Some proposals call for a path to citizenship, while others don’t. Depending on how the eligibility is ultimately defined, the DREAM Act could benefit as many as 2.1 million undocumented children and young adults who were brought to the country before the age of 16.

The 2012 American National Election Study found that 44 percent of the country is in favor of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to become permanent residents, while just 25 percent say they oppose such a measure. Another 31 percent say they’re not sure. Still, this being an election year, there seems to be little momentum for any kind of sweeping reform of the country’s fractured approach to immigration.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, DC–based Center for Immigration Studies, which bills itself as “low immigration, pro-immigrant,” says the DREAM Act is a “political gimmick” masquerading as comprehensive immigration reform. “The point of it was to be able to say, ‘Here’s little Luis. He’s valedictorian of his high school. Lived here since he was two months old, knows no language but English, and his goal in life is to join the Marine Corps and kill American enemies.’ Therefore, all 12 million illegal aliens need some amnesty.” Krikorian says the DREAM Act is just too ambitious, but could pass if it were rewritten with significant changes, such as limiting eligibility to children brought to the U.S. before the age of seven. The problem with the act, he says, is “It was all or nothing for these guys, and now they have nothing.”

Krikorian is certainly right about one thing: Neither the DREAM Act nor any other serious proposal out there provides anything that looks like comprehensive immigration reform. And lacking any kind of federal leadership on the issue, the states have taken it upon themselves to pass laws of their own — many of them affecting young people who would be helped by the DREAM Act. While 14 states, including Rhode Island, allow eligible undocumented students attending public institutions to pay in-state tuition, Massachusetts does not. Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston, says the tuition issue in Massachusetts has been controlled by “those who are opposed to undocumented immigrants specifically and often immigrants more generally.”

Up in New Hampshire, the state Senate voted last month to compel students attending public colleges to swear in an affidavit that they are legal residents of the United States. And for their part, South Carolina and Alabama have passed laws prohibiting undocumented students from enrolling in public postsecondary education.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, deported a record 400,000 people last year, though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) insists that it’s not going after young people who would be made legal under the DREAM Act. But a growing chorus of law professors is arguing that President Obama should not wait for Congress to pass the law. More than 90 of them signed a letter to Obama in May that insisted he has “clear executive authority for several forms of administrative relief for DREAM Act beneficiaries.” Harvard Law School professor Deborah Anker, who signed the letter, says Obama could help undocumented young people right now. “The president definitely has the power,” she says. The question is, Will he use it? (As it turns out, he will. The Obama administration announced June 15 that it will no longer deport young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and have stayed out of trouble. These kids may also be eligible for work permits.)

 

A few months after Senior Grant Night, Oumou and I get together at a downtown Boloco. It’s winter, and she’s dressed in a puffy jacket and earmuffs.

Since we met in the fall, I’ve been thinking about her. I know that even as the politicians continue to debate the DREAM Act, she’s going to graduate high school. And then what? She’s bright and motivated, but she isn’t a superstar student who’s going to get into Harvard and find private scholarships. Without access to financial aid, high school will probably signal the end of her formal education. She’ll have to support herself, but what kind of work is available for job seekers whose highest priority is that the employer doesn’t check papers?

And forget that hottest of graduation gifts, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! The geography of Oumou’s life will be contained within the U.S. — if she leaves the country she’ll be unable to return. Even domestic travel puts her at risk. Government agents have been known to board Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains for immigration checks, escorting off the undocumented. In 2010, then–Harvard sophomore Eric Balderas, brought to the U.S. from Mexico at age four, tried to board a domestic flight in Texas and was detained by ICE. After public outcry, he was not deported.

Oumou and I have had a series of conversations over the past couple of months. In time, I’ve come to realize that I want to write about her as a way of ­exploring the broader issue of ­immigration in this country. I’ve offered to conceal Oumou’s identity, but she wants me to use her name, to tell her story even though it scares her. Now we’re sitting in a booth eating wraps, and I notice that every time we say the word “undocumented,” we whisper it.

Oumou tells me her first impression of America was, “Wow, this place is beautiful.” There were so many bright lights and tall buildings. Her first meal in the U.S. was Chinese takeout, boneless spareribs with duck sauce, and to this day that’s what she orders at Asian restaurants. She learned English by watching television, and her only detectable accent today is that of a Bostonian. Oumou begged to be enrolled in school, and started second grade at the age of eight. She learned to play the clarinet and, when it was time for high school, was accepted at the Boston Arts Academy. For most of her life now, she has considered Boston home. But the truth is that at any moment she could be told to leave.

Making that even harder on her is that not even her family members can truly understand what she’s experiencing. Like untold numbers of the estimated 11.5 million people living in the country illegally, Oumou is from a mixed-status family. “Everyone is all set in my family except me,” she says. Her four half-siblings, also born in Cape Verde, were able to become U.S. citizens—her brother married an American, and her sisters were petitioned for by their father after he became a citizen. Recently, one of the sisters petitioned for permanent residency—a pathway to citizenship — for Oumou’s mother. Oumou wanted to have a sibling petition for her, too, but discovered that siblings are not considered immediate relatives, meaning the whole thing could have taken a decade or two.

Oumou tells me that during parts of her sophomore and junior years, she and her mother were homeless and wound up at a shelter in Waltham. (Her mother’s other children are all older and have their own lives.) She says she learned a lot from living there. For one thing, she won’t have children until she is financially stable. She tells me that her refrigerator is often empty, and that she sometimes relies on friends for meals. Then she says something that really rattles me.

“My aunt wanted me to ask you if she could adopt me and get me citizenship that way,” she says. I’m starting to realize that she might not understand my role. I explain that I’m not here to offer advice, just to write about her experience as an unauthorized immigrant. Something in the exchange affects me and, for the first time, I understand that if Oumou is going to reveal her story to me for print, it won’t feel honest if I don’t do the same. These days I vote and carry a navy-blue passport, so I can pretend I never knew what it was like to be threatened with losing the right to stay in the only country I have ever called home. Am I ready to out myself and, in the process, my parents? Even their closest friends don’t know their secret.

I struggle with the question for the next hour as Oumou and I sit inside the restaurant. She never takes off her jacket or earmuffs. If she needed to disappear quickly into the winter day, she could.

 

I’ve been driving in Dorchester for almost an hour and I’m lost. I’m supposed to meet Joe Ureneck, cochair of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, but I’m late, and that makes me uncomfortable. Ureneck leads a group that advocates for tougher enforcement of immigration laws. He’s been quoted in the press opposing the DREAM Act and has said that anyone in the U.S. illegally should return to their home country. Since I’ve never met him, I can’t help wondering if he has something against immigrants — like me — in general.

Finally, I park behind Gerard’s restaurant in Adams Corner. I can see people eating inside the restaurant, but I can’t find the door. How did they get in? I can see that the restaurant exists, I just don’t know where to access it. Then I spot Ureneck, a gray-haired man in denim who’s waiting for me on a bench. He tells me to follow him. We enter a convenience store, pass gallons of milk and bags of corn chips, and come to another door inside the shop — the main entrance to the restaurant, hidden in plain view. As someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, this experience is familiar: There are just some things you don’t know you don’t know.

We settle into a high-top and Ureneck tells me that he doesn’t think much of the DREAM Act, which he calls “amnesty in disguise.” He doesn’t want to reward the lawbreakers already here or motivate new ones to come. As for Oumou and the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., Ureneck has a solution. “Deportation,” he says.

We talk about his organization’s work in preventing unauthorized immigrants from receiving Massachusetts driver’s licenses and in-state tuition at public universities. Sitting across from Ureneck, I begin to wonder how he feels about my presence in this country. And soon enough, the conversation turns to me. Ureneck asks what my background is. I tell him my parents are from the Philippines and came to the country on a student visa. “Were you born here when your parents were on student visas?” he asks.

“No,” I say, tensing up. “I came over when I was three years old.”

“Legally?” he asks.

“Yes,” I tell him.

 

I was a teenager when my parents told me why I couldn’t visit my cousins in Canada during the summer, and why my older sister couldn’t travel to Japan on tour with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.

That’s when it hit me: I was an illegal alien. My younger siblings, who had been born here, had a right to be in the country, but I didn’t. The future suddenly went dark. I could be deported to the Philippines, a location as unknown to me as Mars. I couldn’t fathom starting over in a foreign nation, even though that’s exactly what my parents had done by coming to America. I never thought about how meaningful U.S. citizenship was until I suddenly was told I didn’t have it. That feeling has stayed with me ever since learning that, with a shuffle of papers, my life as I knew it could be lost. My parents said that we shouldn’t worry — the lawyer was working on it.

I decide to ask my mother about the period when we were undocumented, and she describes a term in the Filipino community called TNT, short for tago ng tago. It’s a Tagalog term translated literally as “hiding and hiding” — from immigration. She explains that we weren’t actually hiding because “Immigration knew where to find us.” There was plenty of documentation that we existed — my father had bought a house, started his own business, and paid taxes. When the student visa ­expired, he hired an immigration lawyer, but straightening out the paperwork dragged on much longer than he’d expected, and my parents, my older sister, and I were soon out of status, in administrative violation of the nation’s immigration laws. We were advised not to leave the country if we expected to be allowed back in.

And then President Reagan’s 1986 ­Immigration Reform and Control Act gave us a pathway. My father fired his lawyer and filled out our paperwork himself. We, along with 2.9 million other people, came forward. I was relieved to be given a temporary alien resident card, but so ashamed to have everbeen “an illegal” that I hid it behind my first driver’s license. In 1995, I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen and my college friends threw me a party. I blew out candles on an American flag cake striped in red strawberries, white cream, and blueberries. For the first time in years, I felt safe.

  • telma

    I’m so happy and proud of my little sister oumou, for being strong and remaining patient, there was times when she would call me crying hopelessly cause she’s undocumented. And now it feels like she’ll be unstoppable accomplishing everything she want to do..I love you lil sis and I’m so proud and happy for you

  • Nellie

    I am tired of people trying to make me feel sorry for illegal aliens. This is a problem of their parents making. Stop trying to make us (American citizens) feel sorry or guilty – it is not of our making. Ask your parents what their plan was for you when you got older?

    • Ashleigh

      First I have to say That I am supper proud of My Girl Oumou! She is too much of a wonderful person to recieve anything negative. Documented or not I love and respect Oumou as a Friend and as Far as people being Tired of hearing about Illegal Aliens, it Won’t EVER stop. This country is made up of Human Beings who all have the direct right to live where they would like to. If having “papers” is what changes a persons perception of another human then they need to open up their eyes and take a better look at the country we live in. Great Loving People Like Oumou are everywhere! And I am accepting to that. LOVE You OUMOU! A&F

    • Julie Goncalves

      I’m going to jump in and say that no one is making you feel bad for illegal aliens they Re people just like us … This is a country of freedom

    • kara

      We human beings do not choose the country we are born in nor the parents or economical status. US is a country that proclaims freedom in which by the way we are all immigrant first, second or third…this act is only helping the kids to have the same rights that others do…and why wouldn’t you if they work hard, study and can be the future bright minds of the country….

    • Anna

      Nellie, I see how you view yourself: an “American citizen” and one of the superior chosen ones who deserves it all. The U.S. is made of Immigrants and many of the American citizen’s ancestors came here illegally as well. The difference was the immigration laws in the past wasn’t as strict and they were more forgiving so your ancestors got legal documents.

      Don’t tell me you think all immigrants (your ancestors) in 1800′s or early 1900′s applied for Visa, stood in line, and got here happy train.

      No child should pay for the mistakes of their parents. You are a God and family hating person with selfish heart and soul. You were lucky enough to be born under a favorable sky and there is still plenty of space here for some more people to get a second chance in happiness.

  • Kellt Jane

    I disagree with Nellie, if this was you, I’m pretty sure you would want people to sympathize for you and for the record Oumou never trired to gain attein and try to make people feel sorry fo her.I’ve known her for 4 years and this is how I found out. So keep you not so “thoughtful” comment to yourself

  • Jan D

    My nephew just graduated high school, he is also hoping to go to college, but even in-state tuition is to expensive. He like other members of my family, my self included will work full time and take single classes at community colleges.

    I don’t feel at all sorry for this girl or her family. Lots of people are looking for work and trying to get into college. She does not get to jump the line and get extra benefits because she over stayed her visa.

    • http://Bostonmagazine.com Julie

      You’re straight up ignorant…

      • Anna

        I agree with you Julie. She is!!!

    • candy

      This comment has been removed for violating the comments policy.

    • laura

      I understand where you are coming from.. there are many American’s whom cant afford to further their education. But the focus of this is not that some undocumented young lady is trying to drain from the financial system. The point is, she cant get anywhere… last time I checked as a manager for a business, its required to have a valid social to work, and ID. If these young students canT seek work… how will they be able to pay there way through school. It is not about them taking from our financial system… is about helping them become stable and making their own. You need to remember that we all our immigrants.. whether its is first, second, or fifth generation. We all are.. and its time to make a difference.

    • Linda D

      I have to agree with Jan D and others on this. I’m confused… you want me to feel sorry for a girl who is here ILLEGALLY, is that right? You want me to feel sorry for her and the rest of the 800,000 that Obama is letting in this country for free while millions have stood in line, paid THOUSANDS of dollars to come to this country legally and have the same dreams as this young woman, correct? Obama says that “this is the right thing to do for America”… I’m confused on this as well.. how do we pay for all of these people when we’re already broke? How do these people find jobs when there is already so many American’s already looking for work, how is this the “right thing to do for America”? I myself am not working right now, when I look for a job in the classifieds it’s for “Bi-lingual only”… how is that NOT discrimination to me? I’m the one who was born in this country of parents of parents that were born and raised in this country and yet I have to be forced to speak Spanish in order to get a job? If the roles were reversed, and the ad said “English only” I’m sure there would be some lawsuit somewhere filing for discrimination. It just doesn’t seem right that I have to feel sorry for someone who is here illegally and because he/she speaks Spanish she will be getting that job over me. For the people who say that this is what America is all about, that we’re a nation of immigrants.. I’m pretty sure the immigrants that came over here went through it the legal way.. ever been to or heard of Ellis Island? Not to mention, this isn’t the right time to do this.. I know it’s for Latino votes and if he felt so strongly for this, why didn’t he do this in his first year of the presidency? It’s because the election is coming up and he’s panicking! I mean, it was done as an Executive Order, not through congress… it just doesn’t seem fair to many AMERICAN people that are suffering everyday, people that have no work, people that are standing out on the corner hoping that someone will give them a few dollars to get through the day, American’s that have lost their homes and are living in their cars, shelters or streets. I’m sorry, I can’t feel sorry for someone who is here illegally because of ignorant parents who “jumped the line” while there are SO many legal American’s hurting… is anyone helping THEM?

      • Jaquie S.

        Yes, this is a heated debate. Whenever people of small minds and impoverished hearts hear of others struggles, it does make them squire and lash out. We are all people. some people live on this side of a humanly defined line, others live on that side. There is no difference. Nothing is being taken from you, except by Facebook (“free” you know) and other huge corps. So, we are a country of immigrants who killed off most of the indigenous peoples who lived here prior to the take-over and now we want what we’ve taken and not share our good fortune (read: spoils).

        Lets all grow up and try to care for the one (person) next to us who has less, who is being mistreated, malnourished, who is having their rights (as a human being) impinged upon. Get off the iPhone (we should all be so lucky) and help. I’m proud to live in a country that recognizes that if we help educate people–I’ll pay 100% tax for that!–we will all be free someday.

        Best of luck Oumou. I don’t konw you, but you deserve it all!!!
        JS

        • Anna

          I completely agree with you Jaquie. You are a person with heart and soul. Most people here insist on being Christians or God loving people but most of all they hate helping another in need. They are selfish and uncharitable creatures.

      • Anna

        Than learn a language. Knowing a language is an asset so if you do attempt to learn a language it wouldn’t hurt you. Education shouldn’t be a temporary occurrence; It should a continuos event.

        I already know three languages and I am also learning Spanish now. In Europe it is mandatory for students to learn two to three languages. English is a must know language in many foreign countries and no one complains. They are also advanced in match and science.

    • Jaquie S.

      Plenty of work out here…are you willing to do it? I took two jobs: McDonalds and cleaning peoples houses. Don’t complain if you aren’t willing to bear the pain! Born and bred in the US, willing to work to pay the bills. Plenty of work, go get it, don’t blame others for your unwillingness to do what is necessary to eat.

      • OneTime_comment

        Finally, the first rational and honest comment. I wish more people in this country felt that way and actually kept working hard, instead of complaining for the mistakes they have made. Some of this kids have the same problems, except that they were never given the option or legal path to fail at it. Let them get those chances, just like your ancestors did to get educated and better their lives and their family’s lives.

      • Anna

        Jaquie you are awesome!! I always come across people who complain there are no job. There ARE jobs!!! Look harder and be willing to work a bit harder.

    • Anna

      I think you failed to read the article. It says, unlike your nephew, she can’t even get a job to pay for her education. Your nephew, if he really wants, can go to college and get a government loan. If he was a good student, with good grades, he should also be able to get scholarship.
      Don’t compare your nephew to her. Every documents U.S. kids have everything they need to make their dreams come true. They are living in the country of opportunity. They just need to work hard and not play video games, or party, or smoke, or just waste their time.
      Your comment is just excuses, excuses, excuses…..

  • http://Bostonmagazine.com Jen

    For those that where ignorant !!! there are a lot of gov.websites that offer financial aid if you gualify..but in oumou’s case she can’t , America is where she grew up n where she knows best, n for her to lie in a country where she has been all her life and not beig treated as equal ,really sadness me ..she’s a good student n he deserves the opportunity to get rights n go to college n make something of herself , thats all shes asking for ..is to live the American dream like everyone else in this country…

  • lucie

    This comment has been removed for violating the comments policy.

  • Wildishka

    I am saddened by those who are making such heartless comments here. As an adult whose life was seriously screwed up by parental actions and inactions, I think holding a child responsible for a choice his or her parents made on his behalf is terribly heartless. I can’t even imagine being a teenager and finding out that I might have to go live in a country that I may as well have never been to and don’t know anybody, because of something that I had no say in. I hope none of you “I don’t feel sorry for her” types never have to rely on the empathy and kindness of others because it sure seems to me like you know nothing about how to give those things to others.

    • Cristy

      Ditto this. I really don’t understand people who can’t find it in themselves to have compassion for those less privileged than them.

  • David

    Im so proud of you!!!! To all those who are judging her negatively why don’t you take note. Obviously her story describes her taking chances an living her life to the fullest maybe we as “Americans” need to step the hell up and stop knocking down the people who are actually trying to make their lives better along side fighting ignorant people about their citizenship. All im saying is that im proud of Oumou i know she is determined to get what she needs done and i can speak from experience because i have seen her go for the gold. Keep it up Oumou!! <3

  • J Bravo

    I’ll first start of by saying that I understand both sides of the issue here. On the one hand, there are illegal aliens in the country. Maybe they are taking jobs.Maybe they are taking resources. That’s something we, as the country that symbolizes hope and hard work for the entire world, have to live by. Sure it’s a negative consequence – but these people are here for the same reason all of our ancestors
    came here – so that the next generation of their family could have what America stands for. Now, is it fair for us being that next generation to say to others trying to start their own journey – “Sorry, you and your family cant begin the process.” that doesnt seem right. That’s like going back in time and telling your ancestors, upon their arrival to this great country, Sorry – we’re full and you’re going to take our jobs. Obviously that’d be terrible because then we wouldn’t be here.
    If I can just give one more example – we’ve all had undocumented citizens in our lives…it could have been the EMT who saved your relative; the doctor who treated your disease when no one else could figure it out; the nurse who held your parent’s hand when you couldn’t get away from work. These people are sewn into the fabric of our lives and our country and they deserve every right to fulfill the dream that our ancestors worked so hard to give us. As Americans, let’s embrace these people, because they love this country as much as we do, and if they came here to escape an inferior country, they may appreciate the USA just a little more at times. When i think of American values, I think of courage, of hope and strength and helping others. I do not think of pushing people off the side of our boat as they try to climb out of the water – I think as Americans we would grasp their hand – no matter what papers are in their pocket – and hoist them into the safety of our great shining ship.

    • lucie

      I agreed wit j bravo well said …this country was made by immagrants…n the ones that said negative comments please look at your family background n I bet someone in your family or your ancestors came from another country n simply just to make a living n have a better life’s to support their family n holding their kids n their kids kids have a good future …n oumou is from a very poor country that’s struggling like other countries in the world n she didn’t ask to be here …all she knows is here n almost half her family are here n for her to be deported to her country where. She might not have any family n probably has forgotten her language n culture n for her to go bak their n start fresh will be horrible ..she grew up here ……let oumou get wat she deserves …she has never gotten in trouble n gets good grades n shes a great friend to all n has a good heart

  • stacy

    This comment has been removed for violating the comments policy.

  • Julie Goncalves

    I love you oumou and you know that. I’m so proud of you, knowing you been through a Lot of obstacles in your life you seem to overcome each and every one hof them. You are a very successful and independent woman who strives to do her best in each and every way. You know I’m here for you when ever you need me, we knew each other for years and that’s not going to stop.

  • Brittney

    linda D your a bum …can’t you read …it clearly states that she came to the country illegally you bum. why should illegal Americans have the right to travel and live in other please but people cant come and live in America.. that BS and you freaking know it. your just ignorant. It people like you who makes this world so chaotic. your a sinful human being and hope god doesn’t forgive for the words that you have written.

  • Brittney

    linda D your a bum …can’t you read …it clearly states that she came to the country legally you bum. why should legal Americans have the right to travel and live in other please but people cant come and live in America.. that BS and you freaking know it. your just ignorant. It people like you who makes this world so chaotic. your a sinful human being and hope god doesn’t forgive for the words that you have written.

  • Cristy

    That is so amazing! I wish you all the best in your pursuits, Oumou.

  • chaska

    I am hoping the dream act gets finally approved! It is been more than ten years that they are trying to pass the law….and it pains me to see how these youth cannot become part of the society when they have lived most of their lives here.

  • Carolyn

    Bravo to both Oumou and Grace for your honesty and tenacity. Why some believe that keeping people down is good for the country is mind boggling. This country is its greatest when we embrace everyone and encourage people to improve their lives, not to kick them into the closet and slam the door on them. It is only by chance that any of us were born in this country as we do not pick our parents or their place of residence. Most of these parents are only looking for a better life for their families and come here illegally out of desperation and survival…doesn’t that make them good parents and who wouldn’t do this for their own family if facing danger, poverty, and worse?

  • EAS

    She has my sympathy. She really does. She’s clearly a brave, bright, and capable girl. She isn’t responsible for her parents’ choices. That said…

    I’ve lived as an expat in the third world and have friends overseas to this day. Many of them — from privileged upbringings and well-off countries or not; Turkish, German, Indonesian, Singapuran, New Zealander, Tibetan; the whole spectrum — would LOVE to have the chance to live and work in the US. Because they respect immigration laws, however, they either face a long byzantine tunnel of paperwork and red tape, or are shut out entirely. Why are they less deserving than those who break the law?

    Your parents can screw up your life in lots of ways. Bringing you into a country illegally, knowing you will have no documentation and no way of accessing safety nets like subsidized tuition, is just one of them. It’s sad. Life is sad.

    Of course, if we as a country really wanted to end illegal immigration, we wouldn’t be harassing the immigrants; we’d be busting employers. If we wanted to end prostitution we’d stop tormenting prostitutes and arrest the johns. For both moral and practical reasons, our efforts should focus on restricting demand, not supply. Instead we get this dog and pony show that allows some of our most vulnerable fellow humans to be continually preyed upon.

    I don’t agree with repeated sweeping amnesty and am decidedly ambivalent about the DREAM act. It isn’t the child’s fault, and yet, I would rather increase the number of LEGAL slots for LAW-ABIDING would-be immigrants. Rewarding people for breaking the law is a terrible idea, start to finish. However, I also strongly disagree with the way our immigration policies are selectively, abusively enforced, at the expense of vulnerable and desperate people.

    Enough name-calling. This is a nuanced and difficult issue. There are legitimate reasons, beyond abject cruelty, to object to amnesty programs. I’m inclined to support those that focus on people who, as children, had no say in the decisions that ultimately destroyed their futures — but every article that completely ignores the concept of LEGAL immigration, as if illegal immigration is a natural occurrence that simply happens like tornadoes or wildfires, pushes me further and further away from amnesty programs in general.

    Let people in legally. There are plenty who would love to come. Stop rewarding lawbreakers at the expense of honest and conscientious people.

  • CollegeStudent

    I am very proud of Oumou for having the courage to step out and share her story. I am also undocumented and sometimes feel afraid to share my story to people. Currently I am attending a prestigious university and conduct clinical research to treat breast/ovarian cancer in the U.S. The fact is, I consider myself an American like Oumou and plan to use my skills and abilities to benefit this wonderful country. The U.S. has invested in our high school education, so to push me and Oumou away would be a waste of talent.

  • Jane

    Grace, thank you for this thoughtful and personal account of your experience and Oumou’s. I didn’t know this piece of your story. Your hard work, ambition and talents make you a tribute to this country. I hope Oumou, like you did, moves beyond this difficult period and makes herself a future here. Regardless of one’s politics, we can all show empathy for young people like Oumou who are just trying to find their place in society. It is wonderful to live in a society that embraces people from around the world and I hope the US never loses that unique part of our culture.

  • http://Yahoo Kaylee

    Oumou’s story is one of the multiple ones we see in this case. As children, they are brought across American borders and make a home here. Is this really their fault? America is, after all, the land of the free. Do we really have the right to turn someone down who is helping our country? The Dream Act is raising new predicament, but we should be thankful for it.

    Also, the Dream Act is for those immigrants going to college. Since so many people in this country are for portraying a better image, shouldn’t we be welcoming these students? They are raising our literacy rates. Most of them work harder than the average American for half the pay. We should look at the positive effects of this new act, instead of just the negatives. My personal opinion, is that it would be a great new thing for out country.

  • Brenda

    Apply for the dream act! i already got my response back and i got accepted into it ! theres no doubt you wont get denied! trust me its worth it!

  • http://twitter.com/bhriguaneja Bhrigu Aneja

    I lived and studied at a US High School on an F1 Visa, I paid $8000 in fees every year I did. Following this, I went to a community college in California, also on F1 and rightfully paying international fees. Now, I do not come from a rich family in India and I was not allowed to work in the US. So eventually when my parents money ran out and I couldn’t sustain any longer I moved back to New Delhi, India. I did not finish my BS in CS and had to leave, after I had had my parents squeeze, and provide for me every last dime left in their pockets for me. For someone like me it seems stupid now that I played by the rules. I should have stayed over and maybe gotten a citizenship through this shortcut, while all the other more qualified engineers and doctors from numerous countries waited in lines in anticipation for a green card. The DREAM ACTS sends a very poor message. It tells the people to not respect the rules that were laid down. It is just not fair to the people who do it “right”