Jose Rivera considered himself a regular American teenager, until he learned that, unlike his four sisters, he is not American. His mother brought him to Tempe, Arizona from Guadelajara when he was two. When he grew old enough to get a job, employers kept turning him down. His mother explained he did not have a social security number, so he could not work legally. She got him a fake number so he could get a job in a pizza kitchen.
Three days after being arrested for having a fight with a friend after his shift, Jose sat on the porch of Grupo Beta, a government agency devoted to the protection of migrants in Nogales, Sonora, still wearing his pizzeria work shirt. With no social security number or photo ID, Tempe police turned him over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Jose joined the hundreds of returning immigrants who are brought to the Mariposa-Nogales port each day and sent walking into Mexico.
Each year, roughly 80,000 undocumented children like Jose turn 18 and become adults in the United States, according to research by the non-partisan Urban Institute. National public debate about how to deal with the immigration status of these young people has recently focused on the proposed DREAM – Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors – Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for qualifying undocumented aliens illegally brought to the United States as children. The DREAM Act was included in an overhaul of national immigration laws that floundered in the Senate in the spring of 2007 over partisan divides. It will probably not come up for debate again until 2009.
Jose paused and watched as a line of new arrivals passed into the Grupo Beta offices. He says he still finds it difficult to comprehend how quickly life as he knew it could change. He had a job, a girlfriend, a car, a rented apartment, and a high-school education: but no papers.
Posted: May 28, 2008