October 23, 2005
Latino Advancement Requires Realistic Thinking
-- I get accused of always defending Latinos. But sometimes what
they really need is a good scolding.
those occasions when Latino activists go into left field and start
advocating totally impractical policies that add nothing to the
national discourse on important and controversial issues.
I got an
earful of that recently when I was asked to join in a town hall
meeting in Dallas organized by Hispanic CREO, a Washington-based
educational reform group dedicated to giving Latino parents more
choices regarding their children's education.
panelists and I were expected to talk about education and how
Latinos could demand and receive more from public schools that
are doing future generations a disservice with a mixture of neglect,
excuses and low expectations.
My own solution
to the educational crisis is all about self-help. Latinos can't
sit around waiting for teachers and principals to suddenly develop
higher expectations for them. Rather, Latino parents need to understand
the power they have to pressure those students to take tougher
classes, work harder and get grades that are so good no one can
keep them down.
principle applies to the subject that the audience really wanted
to talk about above all others: illegal immigration. And it was
during that discussion that reality went out the window.
when a woman who identified herself as a teacher asked what she
was supposed to tell parents (who were illegal immigrants) about
why their children (who were also here illegally) couldn't go
to college or apply for financial aid, even after they had worked
hard and earned good grades.
typically, the pursuit of higher education requires a valid Social
Security number, which illegal immigrants don't have. Some states
also require that undocumented immigrant students pay exorbitantly
high out-of-state tuition rates, even if they and their families
have lived in that particular state and paid taxes for years.
to the question shocked some in the mostly Latino audience: Tell
the parents they made a terrible mistake when they came into the
country illegally, and that they compounded that mistake every
day that they stayed here without legal documentation. Explain
to them that our actions have consequences and that one consequence
of their decision to trespass across the border into the United
States is that they and their children were destined to live lives
that may never realize their full potential. Make them understand
that, while they may be splendid parents in every other way, they
did their children a great disservice by leaving them to wander
in the shadows. Whether they can go to college is the least of
their worries. I don't care if the children are honor students,
they can be picked up and deported at any time. And now, unless
there are substantial legislative changes -- like the enactment
of the federal Dream Act championed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah,
which would allow illegal immigrant students to attend college
-- there is not much any of us can do for these children.
news is that there is still quite a bit that parents can do for
their children. They can contact an immigration lawyer or a low-cost
legal clinic and ask how it is that one begins the long and often
expensive process for obtaining legal residency. I told the crowd
that I knew of one person who spent 12 years and more than $12,000
to convert her status, and that of her son, from ``illegal'' to
``legal.'' That brought gasps. Apparently, that sounded like a
lot of money. It isn't, I told them. It's $1,000 per year, or
about $80 a month. I know immigrants who spend that on their monthly
cell phone bill, and this is much more important. If these illegal
immigrant parents don't want to do it for themselves, then they
should do it for their children.
scattered applause, but it was nothing compared to the rousing
response that went to another panelist -- Raul Yzaguirre, former
president of the National Council of La Raza -- when he said that
he didn't like the term ``illegal immigrant'' because he didn't
think that people who came to this country to feed their families
should be considered criminals.
would we call them? They broke the law. We can be sympathetic
to their plight without condoning their actions. In order for
Latinos to make real progress, first they have to stay in the
2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune