At UMass, An American DREAM On Hold

By Toni Waterman

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Dec. 10, 2010

BOSTON — Twenty-two year old Deivid Ribeiro’s eyes have been glued to C-SPAN for days, anxiously watching as Congress debates what could be the fate of his future.

 “Come on, I want this vote to happen already,” Ribeiro says, tapping his fingers nervously on the kitchen table. He’s hoping Congress passes the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – or DREAM Act. 
 
The legislation would put illegal immigrants like Ribeiro, who was brought to America as a child, on a path to citizenship after completing two years of college or two years of military service. Without it, Ribeiro says a lot of illegal students will have no where to turn.

“We don’t feel like we have a future because when we graduate our degrees are useless. And if we can graduate, we’re hindered by the cost," Ribeiro said. 

Ribeiro was eight years old when he passed through customs at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, setting foot in the United States for the first time. “I remember the first thing my mom said. She said, ‘This is the first word you’re going to learn in the United States: Immigration,” Ribeiro said.
 
It was 1997 when his parents uprooted the family in Brazil and resettled on Cape Cod. At the time, they were here legally on a tourist visa. Ribeiro and his brother started school; his parents began working at a local church where his father was a pastor.

Deivid Ribeiro, far right, poses for a family photo. The Ribeiro's were denied permanent residency in 2007, and now live illegally in the United States. Deivid studies physics at UMass-Dartmouth. (courtesy photo)

Ribeiro says he quickly assimilated to American life. “I went to elementary school, middle school, high school. I made American friends, listened to American music. My favorite bans are Chili Peppers and Dispatch. So we did everything normal Americans would do.”
 
In 2001, Ribeiro’s parents began the process of establishing permanent residency. They filed all the paperwork and paid all the fees, but in 2007, they were denied, meaning the entire family is now here illegally. At the time, Ribeiro was heading off to college and was applying for FAFSA. His initial reaction was devastation.
 
“All I could think was, I’m not going to school. I worked so hard, I was number eight in my class. I got all A's. I did the best I could. I got 5's on all my AP exams, and now I can’t go to school?”
 
But he went anyway, working full-time while taking classes at Cape Cod Community College. He graduated in 2009 with a 4.0 GPA and is now at UMass-Dartmouth getting a degree in Physics. But he could be deported at any time, which is why, he says, he’s fighting for the DREAM Act to pass.
 
“We were taught form the beginning, do what you want, work hard, because you will have a future. You will have a life, a career and you’ll be happy. And we did and now we get to this point where we can’t even go to college," Ribeiro said. "We need the Dream Act to pass so we can live our lives and give back to the community we’re part of.”
 
But critics of the DREAM Act say it’s just a fancy form of amnesty that rewards bad behavior. Former GOP Senate candidate Ken Chase argues that the bill is a way for Democrats to secure a large dependent Democratic voting block for generations to come.

“This is the block of people that will replace black Americans in terms of being the most overwhelmingly Democratic voting block in the nation. This is the strategy," Chase said. "This is what I think is the shameless manipulation of people. People who are immigrants, but particularly illegal immigrants, are the most desperate and the most vulnerable.”
 
Chase also fears that DREAM Act is just the beginning, that once the door is opened a crack, it will eventually be opened all the way.
 
“We’re talking about the larger picture here. This is the democratic approach because they raised this in 2007 and it was shot down, so this is their way to get piecemeal to the end goal, which is eventually to get everyone who’s here illegally, legalized.”
 
But Ribeiro argues the DREAM Act is different. It doesn’t apply to everyone because you’ve got to work to earn it. Plus, there are strict eligibility requirements. Applicants have to have come to American before they were 16 years old, they must be living here continuously for five years, and they can’t be older than 29 when they apply. But most importantly, says Ribeiro, they have to be good students with no criminal record.
 
Ribeiro says the DREAM Act would give him the kind of stability he needs to succeed in the United States.

“All my dreams are dreams I want to accomplish here. I want to work at MIT, which is here. I want to be an astronaut with NASA, which is here. My friends are here. I want to marry somebody here,” Ribeiro said.
 
Meanwhile, Congress is still debating. The House narrowly passed the measure on Wednesday night, 216-198, but on Thursday, the Senate shelved the measure until later in the Lame Duck Session. That means young illegal immigrants like Ribeiro are left in limbo a little bit longer.
 



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