Anahit Grigoryan is like many students in the USA. For a long time, she has wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. She graduated from high school in 2009 and enrolled in a community college with plans of transferring to a four-year school in the future.
However, Grigoryan cannot take the MCAT test, nor will she ever be able to take the Hippocratic Oath. Why is this? Because Grigoryan is an illegal immigrant in the USA, which makes it impossible for her to have a driver’s license, a legitimate job, or even a social security number.
“My whole life is a lie,” she said. “Every time someone asks me why I don’t drive I have to make up some sort of excuse. I feel embarrassed.”
Luckily for Grigoryan and other students like her, this might no longer be the case. On October 8, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Dream Act. This new law allows undocumented students who come from low-income families to become eligible for public financial aid, fee waivers, and textbook vouchers.
“It makes all the difference in the world in terms of the likelihood of them surviving the first semester,” said Greg Perkins, a Glendale Community College counselor.
However, the state’s Dream Act is small news when compared to the National Dream Act, which stalled in the Senate last year.
“What [the national act] would do is it would allow students through earning a college degree and performing either community service or military service to qualify for conditional temporarily residency for a 10-year period,” Perkins continued. “This would not make them eligible for social services…but at least they would have a social security number so that they could get a work permit, they could get a driver’s license.”
Andres Aguilera is another illegal immigrant who has lived most of his life in the USA. Like Grigoryan, Aguilera’s future is in limbo under the current laws concerning illegal immigrants and a higher education.
“I am just trying to find my place in the world,” Aguilera said. “I have people telling me that I don’t belong here [in the United States], and other people saying ‘You are not Mexican enough to go back to Mexico.’”
Sadly, there are many students like Aguilera and Grigoryan who have lived in the USA for most of their lives, have good grades, and have participated in extracurricular activities, but who are denied a higher level of education because they are not legal immigrants with proper identification.
During a recent forum at Glendale Community College, Cynthia Gonzalez, a student advocate, spoke a few words that sum up this situation quite nicely, in my opinion:
“These students have been in the United States the majority of their lives,” she said. “These students have lived an American life style and it is unfortunate that they don’t have the same privileges as people who were born in the United States.”