Allison's Book Bag

Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth

Posted on: July 4, 2014

Immigration is of personal interest to me. I have myself gone through the process. So has my step-mom. Along with a few friends. And so have at least some of the families of students whom I have taught. For that reason, I read Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth. Unfortunately, while the book did enlighten me as to another aspect of immigration, it also disappointed me with its one-sided viewpoint.

A few years ago, I read a report of a local college student who was protesting the fact that she didn’t qualify for financial aid. Moreover, she wasn’t even sure whether or not she’d be able to finish her degree, despite being a hard-working student. Why was she facing these challenges? Because she was an undocumented youth–or, in other words, an immigrant without papers to legally live in the United States. Even though I’m all too aware of the time and money involved in working through the maze of required immigration paperwork, to be honest my reaction was: “Then get legal.”

Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth has enlightened me, in the sense that it helps me better understand how young people can end up being undocumented through no fault of their own. Often they are brought into the United States by their parents and have no idea until they’re older that they’re not legal. Many of their parents made the daring decision to sneak across the border to help their family escape a life of danger and poverty, or at the very least to improve their children’s chances to obtain decent education and medical care. Some of their parents even entered legally, but on a temporary visa which ran out while they were in the United States. And they were too afraid to ask questions for fear of drawing attention to themselves and risk being deported. Their concerns are commendable and their confusion is understandable. Unfortunately, the sad result is that there are about two million undocumented youth today in the United States, about sixty-five thousand of whom have graduated from high school without the ability to obtain a driver’s license, financial aid to college, or a social security number.

While I appreciated the multifaceted essays of the undocumented youth who were brave enough to speak out about their plight, their stories are understandably one-sided. Many don’t understand that few if any countries have an open door immigration policy. Many feel confused about why the United States, which once was founded by immigrants, now has rules which govern the admission of aliens. With all the sacrifices that staying in the United States has required, most don’t understand that working hard and having dreams isn’t enough to qualify them for citizenship. Some feel threatened in their status to the point that they fall into the trap of stereotyping documented youth as being less motivated. Most feel outcast in their status, feeling that the rest of the world views them as inhuman. However, the editors spoke to immigration leaders and members of Congress prior to making the documentary upon which this book is based and so should be more knowledgeable. Instead of simply saying it’s both “cruel and stupid” to banish these youth, they should’ve used their knowledge to provide readers with an awareness of why the issue isn’t straightforward. An argument based on facts, instead of just emotionalism, will win more supporters.

The most moving story in Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth is about a young college student who was deported when he was nineteen. He had lived in the United States since infancy. One day as he left his parents’ house, armed agents surrounded him and arrested him. Within less than a week, he found himself in Mexico. He couldn’t speak Spanish. He had no familiarity with Mexican food. Gang members targeted him because they viewed him as American and rich. Reading that story makes me believe that something does need to be done. What exactly, I’m not sure. One idea apparently is something called the DREAM Act. Although it’s referenced in both the introduction and in various essays, it isn’t described in any detail.

Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth made me both sad and mad. It also created a better awareness for me of what it’s like to be an undocumented youth. However, I don’t believe the solution is to simply allow two million youth to suddenly become citizens. I base that belief on my studies of the immigration process when I was trying to gain permanent residency status. It’s a complex issue, which the editors should have recognized, and so should have explained it to readers and offered explanations of proposed solutions.

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2 Responses to "Papers: Stories by Undocumented Youth"

Having lived in several foreign countries- Spain and Mexico- I do not know what the fuss is with the USA expecting immigrants to follow the rules.
In Mexico and Spain we had to follow the rules- we could NOT just saunter over the border or off the plane and expect citizen rights. We were not allowed free medical care nor money if we were poor. In Spain we had to go apply every 3 months to even be allowed to stay in Spain as “visitors” while on a study program.
In Mexico whiie there as a temporary resident I had a bad accident. (It turned out to be a skull fracture.) I was NOT allowed in the local hospital. I was told angrily by a Mexican doctor to go to the American Hospital which I did not even know of. So I do have a biased opinion. You want to live here in the USA follow the rules. Pretty simple.

Thank you for your response! I appreciate the thoughts and experiences of others. You raise excellent examples.

I also agree with you to a point. The place where I struggle with knowing what the right answer is when it involves young people who grew up in the United States. A young child doesn’t much have choice but to follow their parents, even if that means illegally entering a country. Up to a certain age, these undocumented youth often don’t even have any idea that they’re illegal. Once they do, the issue is that if they report themselves, they could instantly be deported back to a country to which they have never had a connection.

Until I obtained my green card, I lived with the knowledge that I could be deported if my visa were terminated. Yet I came as an adult, knowing how to legally enter and also knowing the risks. Undocumented youth never had that choice and so I do feel sympathy for their plight, even if I agree that everyone should follow the rules.

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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