Andrea came to the United States from Mexico when she was 5 years old with her mother. Her father from Guatemala had migrated the year before.
Andrea didn't speak English, so she had to repeat kindergarten. But she learned English and excelled in high school graduating fourth in her class with a g.p.a. of 3.82.
Today she is 20 and is studying at an Illinois university. I won't tell you which school or her last name because she is undocumented.
But she allowed me to videotape an interview with her so I could tell you her story.
Andrea is one of as many as one million young people in the United States who could benefit from the DREAM Act.
This legislation, championed by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, would help legalize young immigrants like Andrea who came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years.
The DREAM Act failed before in Congress in 2007, and Durbin recently reintroduced it.
"Our immigration laws prevent thousands of young people from fully
contributing to our nation's future. These young people have lived in
this country for most of their lives. It is the only home they know.
They are American in every sense except their technical legal status,"
Durbin said earlier this year. "They are honor roll students, star
athletes, talented artists and valedictorians. These children are
tomorrow's doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen, firefighters,
soldiers, and senators and we should give them the opportunity to reach
their full potential."
Because Andrea is undocumented she doesn't qualify for financial aid.
But she has found a private donor to help her through school.
"I was educated from kindergarten up until now in English classes and I
have excelled," said Andrea going into her junior year of college.
Andrea knows that without a green card her future is limited. She told
me that she would like to become a sociology professor and go to
graduate school. But she says she might end up doing the same work as
her mother who cleans houses and takes care of children.
She doesn't know what she will do after graduation.
"I have no idea what I'm gonna do actually. I don't know how I'll be
able to find a job with my degree. It's really unclear. That's the
question I ask myself every day, 'What am I gonna do?' "
It's hard to blame young people like Andrea who didn't decide to come
here on their own. They are not guilty of crossing the border
illegally. Still, there are plenty of politicians afraid to vote for
legalizing these youth.
The young people like Andrea call themselves "Dreamies" and many of
them have connected online with Prerna Lal, 24, co-founder and online coordinator for DreamActivist.org.
"If the DREAM Act is not passed, more students will find higher
education inaccessible and as a society, we will be forcing thousands
to live in the shadows, condemning many families to a generational
cycle of poverty," Lal said.
You only need to meet young people like Andrea and Prerna to be convinced we need the DREAM Act.
"All of these students that are graduating have the potential to do
great things like any ordinary American citizen," Andrea said. "...It
would just boost the potential for greatness in this country."