They want a DREAM: Minnesota’s undocumented students talk about their future


David* has been living in St. Paul since 2003, when his family decided to move from Mexico to the United States. For them the move was a long wished-for family reunion – his father and other family members were already living in Minnesota. David was 14 when his family brought him here. 

UPDATE: According to Politico, “President Barack Obama told Democratic members of Congress Tuesday [November 16] he wants the DREAM Act passed in the lame duck session as a “down payment” on substantial immigration reform, according to members at the meeting.

David described his experience as a new arrival in Minnesota: “The difficulty of learning a language, getting used to the culture. Learning what you are supposed to do and what not. What I remember is the first time taking the bus: What should you do? Are you assigned to a seat?”

After mastering these challenges, David found his way to success. He graduated from high school. Now he is studying at a private university in Minnesota. He expects to graduate next year – a path many of his classmates did not follow. Besides the pressure to support their families, many undocumented students do not feel encouraged to go to college. “They believe it is not worth trying,” said David. “They think: If I graduate from high school or even from college – without documents I can’t get the job I want. With a degree, I will still end up with the same work I can get after 9th or 10th grade.”

David is one of thousands of undocumented youth who have lived in Minnesota for years. For most of these immigrant youth, America is the only home they know. They attended school and high school here, got to know friends, and adjusted to the living in the United States.


Breaking news: According to Politico, “President Barack Obama told Democratic members of Congress Tuesday [November 16] he wants the DREAM Act passed in the lame duck session as a “down payment” on substantial immigration reform, according to members at the meeting.

The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, commonly known as the DREAM Act, is proposed federal legislation that would create a path to citizenship for certain undocumented young people. This change in the immigration law The DREAM Act, as proposed in 2009, would apply to young people who entered the United States before the age of 16, have been here for at least five years, and have graduated from a U.S. high school, obtained a GED or been accepted into college. They could then apply for and earn permanent residency after six years, provided that they complete at least two years of college or military service during that time. There are additional restrictions and qualifications, but basically the DREAM Act would create a path to earn citizenship for these young people where none now exists.

The DREAM Act has been introduced into Congress repeatedly over the past ten years. Most recently, it was filibustered and defeated by Republicans and one Democrats in the Senate on September 21, 2010. The next day, Senator Richard Lugar introduced the legislation again.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that she will press for passage of the DREAM Act before this session of Congress ends. Although some Republicans have supported the DREAM Act in the past, it is not likely that they will in the new Republican-majority Congress that will take office in January.

For years, immigrant youth have been fighting to get just one foot on the road to citizenship: They have been fighting for their dream to attend college and pursue a job.

Currently, undocumented students who are trying to attend college struggle with lack of financial aid and college loans, as well as higher non-resident tuition. Because they are undocumented, they are not eligible for state or federal aid, whether in the form of grants or loans.  When they attend state colleges and universities, they pay higher non-resident tuition.

Steve*, another undocumented student, arrived in Chicago when he was in second grade. Now living in Minnesota, Steve said in an email interview that he can relate to these difficulties.

“Getting a driver’s license was a problem, as were the limited activities I could attend,” Steve wrote. “My mom was a single parent, she was working a lot – at minimum wage. I often had to take care of my brother and sister. When my French class went to France, I couldn’t go with them. I was afraid to be taken back to Mexico and not to the United States.”

According to David, one of the hardest experiences was witnessing undocumented friends and classmates dropping out of school. “In Minnesota when you turn 16 or 17 you are not legally required to go to school any more,” he said. “So when my classmates came of age, many opted out to go to work. They had to support their families back home or their families here or themselves.”

Undocumented students in the United States face daily challenges. “I feel like I am living a lie in work and in school,” said Steve. “I always have to make up lies for things: why I don’t drive, why I work and go to school at the same time.”

David is part of Navigate, an organization which supports immigrant students to pursue higher education. David experiences on a daily basis the impact the current law has on the youth. “It keeps sending this social negative message to kids who lack documentation. It tells them that they don’t belong here. It doesn’t matter if I work hard or do badly in school – nothing matters really. If the DREAM Act would pass, a lot of young people would start believing that this is their home, this is where they are growing up and where they should go to school and work.”

According to David, the struggle surrounding the DREAM Act will continue and so will the problems. “If you don’t educate children, and discriminate them based on education status, you create an underclass of people. The Supreme Court says that everyone should have the chance to access education to make the country stronger, not just socially but also politically and economically,” said David. “Why shouldn’t we be allowed this chance?”

The future of most immigrant students is uncertain. “I see myself with a degree, a residence, traveling and encouraging kids to keep fighting for their dreams and goals,” said Steve. “We all have barriers to beat, and this one is mine. I’m taking it by the horns.”

“It takes time, it starts somewhere and it will happen at one point,” said David. “The question is when is it going to happen? We have to keep trying, we just can’t give up hope.”

*David and Steve’s names have been changed at their request.