With the Dream Act hung up in Congress, this summer President Obama acted to allow undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to legalize their immigration status for two years while in school or the military. Twenty-seven years ago, I was one of those children.
My parents brought my family here from France while I was in high school. As thousands of immigrants do each year, they started from scratch, pouring their life savings into a business to apply for an investor's visa, and eventually, permanent residency. My father opened a restaurant but, like 50 percent of all restaurants, it failed within six months. With no investment, we had no investors' visas. We "lapsed out of status" and became undocumented immigrants. My mother got a retail job where, with her French accent, nobody thought she could be "illegal." My father worked as an independent contractor so no one would ask for papers. Money was tight, life tenuous.
I was accepted into UC Santa Cruz and qualified for financial aid. But shortly before graduation, the UC Regents ruled I was not a legal resident of the United States or California, so I would have to pay out-of-state tuition.
This news devastated me. I was an honor student, but college now was out of the question. A teacher suggested I ask an elected official for help. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's office supported my argument that because we had always paid California and federal taxes, I should qualify for in-state tuition. UC agreed, and four years later I earned my bachelor's and later a master's degree in education. I now teach English as a second language to high school students who have had similar life experiences to mine. I started a family. I became a naturalized citizen. I always vote.
As the news of the administration's new policy has reached my students, several have asked me to write letters documenting their life here to use in their applications. Their dream is the same one I had at 18: to stay in this country, to pursue their education and make a contribution. One teacher and one elected official made my wish come true. I hope to be that person for my students.
With a Perspective, I'm Sophie Abitbol.
Sophie Abitbol teaches English language development at Burlingame High School. She lives in San Francisco.