This past week, I had the opportunity and honor to interact with a passionate group of students pushing for a Cornell Dream Act Proposal. The proposal would consist of helping out undocumented students at Cornell, who virtually have no support, whether it be a specific location to go to or financial (even though Cornell is one of the most progressive schools with undocumented immigrants!) Specifically, they are working to help out an undocumented Korean student, Eric, who needs to pay of $10,000 before the end of next week in order to stay enrolled at Cornell to finish his last semester of his senior year.
Eric’s story is a story of hardships. His family came to the USA when he was 12 years old, where they entered a business contract which ended in the other end stealing all of the money from his parents and running away. Eric has taken off many semesters to work for his tuition (he needs to pay in full since he is undocumented so gets no loans or aid) and works hard during the semester as a waiter in order to keep up with his finances. He entered this semester having made up $10,000 already, but just needs the other $10,000 in order to stay a student. (Help him out by giving at cornelldreaming.com!)
The story is a heartbreaking one. I personally have a few undocumented Korean friends back at home, who consider themselves American, having grown up here almost all their lives, just not having a passport. What constitutes being American is a very contentious issue at the national level currently with immigration reform progressing at different levels in different states, some becoming more conservative, others more liberal. However, the scare that Latin American and Mexican immigrants are taking jobs from the American people, seems oddly reminiscent of the Chinese scare in the 1900s that led to a quota and ban on Asians immigrating to America because they were also seemingly taking jobs away from Americans (seems racist and arbitrary to me).
In reality, many of these undocumented students have grown up here for the majority of their lives and are, in all sense of the word, American. They have friends here, they have pride in living here, they want to see the US economy grow, they want to have their kids grow up here. In fact, I know some of my undocumented friends would be even more willing to serve in the US army than many of my “American” friends. Then, in that case, what constitutes being American?
In fact, many Americans take for granted the fact that they are Americans. I have so many friends that have tried for many, many years to get permanent residency status and eventual citizenship, but after 9/11, immigration policies have become much more strict and gaining citizenship is an arduous, painstaking, extremely long process. One friend in particular comes to mind, who had to go back to serve in the Korean Army because he could not gain citizenship status, even though he is more fluent in English than Korean, he lived here his ENTIRE life (was only born in Korea because he happened to have been born while his mom was revisiting Korea from California). In that case, is he any less American than you or me?
Before wrapping up, I just wanted to acknowledge that group of students on campus, that have spent a lot of time to help Eric out. They have had multiple meetings this past week and have been sending out massive amounts of emails in addition to meeting with professors and student organizations to raise awareness and ask for help. It’s really touching and inspirational that they have already done so much for Eric (last time I checked, he was 64% towards his goal, all of which happened in just a couple of days!). This, I think, is a way that students can really change a fellow peer’s life. The things that students are able to achieve and do for one another, is what makes Cornell.