What are your post-college plans? Are you pre-med? Pre-law? Maybe you plan to go into banking or education. Here, at Cornell, it is very hard to find someone without ambition. Heck, even if you don’t quite know what you would like to do for a living, Cornellians have ambition. We are at an Ivy League University of worldwide prestige and we are told that all of our dreams can come true. This is the beautiful lie that we live in: We pretend we are in college for the sake of learning, but in reality, we are just in transit. Cornell is but a stepping-stone in the larger scheme of our plans. Graduating from here will open doors to everywhere.
Now, what if this wasn’t the case? Let’s suppose you truly are here just for the sake of your education. But all of a sudden, after you graduate from Cornell you have no chance of finding a job in your field. In fact, you have no chance of finding a professional job at all. Your chances of getting into a graduate school with a fellowship are less than 10 percent (zero percent for medical school!) and you can’t even think of starting a company for legal reasons. Does it still seem worth it, coming to Cornell University? Would you spend the same long hours in the library? Would you still worry about prelims? I wouldn’t. And, being the cynic I am, I don’t think most people would.
But remarkably, I’ve met a group of people who are here for precisely this reason. They are the Cornell DREAMers. These undocumented students are in precisely the situation that I just described. Each and every one of them was told at some point that college was pointless. Not only would they not get in, they were told they would never find scholarships and even if they did, they would never get anywhere. Yet, these students decided to take on the odds and apply to college, and here they are. Each one of them knows that being here is unlikely to help his or her future in the U.S. Each one of them knows exactly what kinds of jobs they can look forward to after college (hint: Not Wall St.).
How did these students come here? Their stories are varied, but they all have one underlying constant theme: They came here when they were young, and not through their own responsibility. What is their predicament? After assimilating to American culture through years of primary and high school education, they are suddenly outcasts in a society that wants nothing to do with them. Undocumented students have no access to healthcare; most scholarships; job offers; they can’t drive or travel outside the country. Why don’t they become “legal?” It may surprise you, but many of them don’t have a choice. The pathway towards correcting their immigrant status often requires returning to their countries of origin. When doing this, they risk a 10-year ban on coming back to the U.S., risking permanent separation from their families. Many of these students live in mixed status families: Half American, half undocumented, so petitions for the whole family to self-deport are uninformed to say the least.
These students risk a lot in coming to Cornell University. Traveling here implies a very real threat of deportation. Coming here places a financial burden on their families, even if they are offered a full-ride scholarship. Finally, the emotional strain of living in fear and isolation, with few people to trust, is enormous. And yet, they are here, studying and learning and even thriving. These are the kinds of people who are willing to work hard whatever the circumstances. These are the kinds of people we can all learn from. Let’s work to keep this remarkable community in our school by pressuring the New York legislature to pass the New York DREAM Act by contacting state representatives. It would substantially increase the number of scholarships for these students, would solve the problem of citizenship for these students and would pressure the federal government to exercise humane practices in dealing with undocumented immigration.
David Angeles Albores is a junior in the college of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at email@example.com. If you would like to know more about undocumented students at Cornell University, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.