I take a bite into the pizza crust and the pain shoots up into somewhere dark and decayed. I know that I am to eat only on the left. This is what I must do until I find the money to fix the problem, or the courage to come to terms with losing a tooth in my mid-twenties. What bugs me most about DREAMing is how little people know or are willing to invest into an important social issue that has such tremendous effect for millions of people. I remember the words of the ever-saintly Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, as he explains to his daughter, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Sometimes I fear that Atticus is right, and that without the magnanimous effort that is required to step into another's shoes, our pains are fated to merely scratch the Ishtar Gates.
The text of the New York Dream Act, which was clearly whittled to increase its odds of passing, stated that undocumented immigrants pay over 600 million dollars in taxes. This figure, which was published by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, did little to deter the prevailing idea that undocumented residents never contribute to the system. And, the New York Dream Act failed to make it into the budget.
I recently read an opinion piece in Newsday, entitled, 'New York Dream Act? Dream On.' The cornerstone of the argument of the piece and the comments that followed was that undocumented students should not be considered until the legal humans had been served. Then and only then if there was anything left over should undocumented students be considered. It is a common argument that I have seen beneath most articles that deal with the Dream Act: the tax dollar argument.
I think of all the American citizens, who are struggling, and receive a tax refund, assistance and a plethora of other resources from the state and federal government. And then I think about the undocumented person who paid into the same system through property, sales and for some, even personal income taxes. They receive no refunds, and are restricted from many services. It seems unfair that an entire group that contributes to the system should be lampooned and scapegoated. It was even more troubling, considering that the Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that extending the Tuition Assistance Program to undocumented students would require an additional 17 million or 2 percent increase. This would correlate to $1.64 for the typical middle class household, a sum that I observed emblazoned across multiple sites as 'less than a cup of latte'. There is something sharp in knowing that the minds and future of hundreds of thousands of young people were sacrificed in a cup of caffeine, and apathy. And then I wish I could ask Atticus, 'How do I convince people to walk in our shoes?'
Sometimes it seems as if it is not the argument, but rather the little effort or passivity with which the issue is approached. No matter how much it is petitioned or shouted, it is frustrating to overcome the persistent indifference to the trouble, hurt and pain of young people. Do I appeal to the sense of reason, sense of shame or sense of compassion? Should I show the numbers that demonstrate how much undocumented people contribute and the benefits of Dream Act policies, or should I tell the stories that chronicle their inhumane struggle and oppression? Will it matter to the voices that are counted in this great country? How do we show that DREAMers, students who struggle without opportunity, are very much like their own sons and daughters?
I pondered the failure of the Dream Act to get into the NY state budget, and I knew that it was politics as usual. And yet beyond that, I saw only the disappointment that rebounded across the thousands of young people across the state. They have little choice, we have little choice but to keep DREAMing!