Jason Redmond, Associated Press
Undocumented UCLA student Leslie Perez, 22, weeps while watching a televised debate of the Dream Act in the Senate at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center in Los Angeles, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010. Perez is an undocumented student at UCLA. The Dream Act would give provisional legal status to illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.
Even though I am an immigrant myself, it was not too long ago that I viewed undocumented immigrants with scrutiny. I believed they brought the burdens of illegal immigration on themselves with their bad judgment. My views were fueled not only by my own secure legal status, but also the media, peers and government. It wasn't until I went to college and became part of an important diversity program at the University of Utah that I became more open to the issue of immigration.
My views were especially changed when I met several undocumented students of different races and ethnicities.They were powerful, the brightest of the brightest, completely assimilated, spoke unaccented English and had spent their entire lives in the United States. Little did I know that these immigrants were simply Americans with the word "illegal" attached to them.
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many of them are what I call "undocumented Americans." They are going to school and dreaming to live the lives they aspire to live. Although most undocumented immigrants come from Mexico and other Latin American countries, according to the American Immigration Council, there are undocumented immigrants from Asia (13 percent), Europe and Canada (6 percent), and Africa and other regions (3 percent). Undocumented immigration is not just a problem for Mexicans and Americans — it is an issue that affects everyone.
In 2002, Utah passed HB144, allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition in Utah's higher education system. In the school year 2010-2011, there were 716 undocumented students taking advantage of this bill throughout the state. Depending on where you stand on the political spectrum, these numbers look too small or too big; however, putting a human face to the numbers helps me to see how important this issue is.
My undocumented American friends are capable, brilliant leaders. Their knowledge and skills would be invaluable to this community if only they had a way of moving forward into a career after obtaining a degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts we will need more workers in the fields of medical scientists and software engineers — jobs these graduates could fill. Obama's immigration reform would help these students by giving them the opportunity for upward mobility such as a career, education and even citizenship.
Utahns are known for their caregiving. I am not surprised that the Utah Compact that humanizes undocumented immigrants and was praised by Obama, is a creation of Utahns. Individuals brought into the United States as children are as American as anyone and should not be denied the rights to success and betterment. Therefore, we should support humane immigration reform and reaffirm our commitment to the undocumented Americans who live here.
Diya Shah is an intern for the Alliance for a Better UTAH. She studies political science and international studies at the University of Utah.