When Francisco Gutierrez (MSB ’13) was a sophomore at his high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., he had plans to apply for an internship like all of his friends. There was only one problem: The application called for a social security number he did not have.
Gutierrez was 14 years old when he first asked his mother for his social security number, only to discover that his parents brought him to the United States when he was two years old. This is when Gutierrez realized he was living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant.
“It was really hard for me to comprehend at that time,” Gutierrez said. “I was very depressed for a whole year. If it wasn’t for the help I received from my high school counselor and all the other faculty in school, I don’t think I would have made it.”
He faced a new set of challenges throughout high school, and after a long journey to his sophomore year at Georgetown, Gutierrez has become an advocate for the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act, if implemented, would allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country as young children to become citizens pending two years of U.S. military service or higher education.
The act would allow Gutierrez a chance for citizenship and an opportunity to join the job market after graduating.
For Gutierrez, this issue not only affects him, but also his family, closest friends and countless other strangers.
“I know there’s at least 2.1 million other undocumented students in this country, and it’s so unfair just to deny them an education,” Gutierrez said. He added that many, like himself, were brought to the United States at a young age without their consent.
“On a more personal level, [the DREAM Act] is a very sensitive and touching issue simply because I would be a DREAM Act beneficiary if the legislature were to pass,” Gutierrez said.
Unfortunately for Gutierrez, the 2010 DREAM Act failed to pass in September, leaving the future of many undocumented students hanging in the balance.
Many critics of immigration reform argue that immigrants should go through the process of citizenship rather than entering the country illegally. Opponents of the DREAM Act argue that the legislation would reward illegal actions by allowing illegal immigrants to earn spots at colleges and universities that would otherwise go to legal U.S. citizens. Furthermore, this education comes at the expense of citizens-effectively subsidizing illegal behavior and encouraging more illegal immigration.
Gutierrez said he knows the process is not easy, and that he would most likely be deported to Mexico until he is able to gain citizenship.
“They keep emphasizing this word `home,’ but what they don’t realize is the [United States] is our home,” Gutierrez explained, adding that he would be lost between these two cultures.”I’m actually terrified [at the thought] of going back [to Mexico]. I’ve actually lost some of my Spanish, so I can’t speak it fluently.”
Gutierrez added that process takes years, and there is always the possibility that he could be denied.
Alma Huerta (SFS ’13) knows firsthand the challenges associated with applying for citizenship. Huerta, who is a legal resident, is currently undergoing the process to be granted citizenship.
“Getting U.S. citizenship was never easy, and it was made worse by the situation with 9/11,” Huerta said. “Getting started on the process requires you to get an official pardon from the government .. This costs more money than immigrants usually have, and they are usually tricked by lawyers pretending they can side-pass this step.”
Huerta added that for those who wish to immigrate legally, it takes years to process. They are also faced with people analyzing every part of their lives.
“Basically, it’s an emotionally and monetarily draining process. The DREAM Act would give so many students that are, for all intents and purposes, American the ability to go to pursue higher education. It would give them back the American dream, and the [United States] can only benefit from having more highly skilled workers in our labor force.”
Gutierrez, along with a group of student activists, has coordinated a table in Red Square where students can send letters to their senators encouraging them to support the act. The issue is so important to Gutierrez that by coming out about his immigration status, he risks facing deportation. Still, he said, it’s worth it to show others that there is hope.
“I remember last year [being on campus] was so surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually walking on campus with the sons and daughters of some of the elites of the world,” Gutierrez said.
“I am so grateful to be here, and that [is] exactly why I want to go back to my community back in Brooklyn and to be able to inform people that you don’t have to drop out of high school because you don’t have a certain status. . I want to let them know they have options, and Georgetown University is one of them.”
For Gutierrez and the millions who are currently facing this challenge, the road is hard.
“I’m not asking for money,” Gutierrez said. “I’m just asking [that people] see the humanity behind the issue … We’re humans. Before I crossed the border, before I became what they call a criminal, before all of that, I was a human being and to be treated unfairly and to be treated unjustly just hurts me, it hurts my family, it hurts everyone and that shouldn’t be the case. I’m simply asking to be recognized as a human being and to be treated fairly [and] equally in this country [that is] called the land of opportunity.”