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November 15, 2017

Whose American Dream?

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I say that I live in Westchester, New York. Although that means next to nothing to my peers at The University of Massachusetts, anyone from New York will hear that and think that they have an immediate understanding of my family and upbringing. Though Westchester County is known as the affluent suburb of New York City, and the county includes 10 percent of America’s wealthiest places, the town that I live in, Ossining, New York, isn’t really included in that Westchester stereotype.

With a graduating class size of over 300 students, and minority enrollment of my high school currently listed at 68 percent, my pre-college educational experience varied from most of my Westchester peers who went to the more typical, small, majority white schools.

But the racial, religious and economic diversity of my town is exactly what made my time in the Ossining School District so special. Two years after my friends attended my bat mitzvah, I attended a friend’s quinceañera. My soccer teammates and I never looked anything like our opponents, whose cookie-cutter appearances were always a topic of conversation on the bus ride home. Walking through the cafeteria on any given day, one could hear students speaking multiple languages as the music blasting from the students’ speakers ranged from hip hop to bachata to Taylor Swift.

However, my town was forced back into American reality Saturday, when this year’s graduating class took their turn walking across a stage, shaking the principal’s hand and receiving their diplomas. While this graduation ceremony proceeded mostly in the same way that mine did, there was one noticeable difference. When Diego Macancela’s name was called, no student crossed the stage to receive a diploma. Instead, a photograph was projected in his place.

This student was detained and arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on June 8, only weeks before he was set to walk in this graduation ceremony, and mere hours before he would attend senior prom. Instead of receiving his hard-earned diploma with his peers, this 19-year-old boy spent the day in a New Jersey detention facility, waiting to be deported back to Ecuador with his mother.

Macancela was originally detained while entering the country illegally with his mother two years ago, but was released pending court hearings. The family then moved to Ossining and applied for asylum, but they were ultimately denied on Nov 16. Without the means to hire a lawyer to appeal their removal order, they remained in the country illegally with plans to have Macancela graduate from high school and take advantage of an auto mechanics program offered by the school, eventually becoming a certified mechanic. This dream will obviously not become a reality, despite an online petition with over 22,000 signatures in his favor.

When Donald Trump ran for president with an immigration platform consisting of not much more than “Build the Wall,” I constantly thought about the diverse town in which I grew up. Many peers of mine were first-generation immigrants, and many more were on the path to becoming the first of their family to go to college, or even to graduate from high school. Although I imagine that Macancela was not the only student that was an illegal immigrant in my school, I never went without resources and I never felt like I missed any opportunities that I otherwise could have had. My town is certainly “big enough for the both of us,” so I can’t help but be confused about why this student was singled out of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, especially at a time in this boy’s life that makes this deportation feel especially cruel.

With Trump’s proposed 2018 budget giving homeland security a 2.8 billion dollar boost, it is likely that the number of deportations will only continue to grow. Will the illegal immigrants being chosen for deportation be rapists, murderers and gang members like Trump has suggested? That remains to be seen, but what I do know for sure is that a criminal record is not the cause of Macancela’s poorly-timely deportation, as his lawyers have stated that he has not committed any crime aside from being brought into this country as a minor—something that his family was denied the legal means to do.

An intense fear of immigrants has been created, or at least given a platform, in the past year. Although the Mexican border wall and the Muslim ban have not become realities, the nationalistic, xenophobic mindset behind those proposals is more real than ever.

But is a high school student working two part-time jobs with aspirations to become a mechanic someone to be feared? Is this boy being ripped from his family on the day of his senior prom, to be deported back to the gang-filled country he was attempting to escape from, justice? Is that a fair representation of the values of this country?

Diego Macancela came to the United States with dreams of making his life and the life of his family better, and I feel quite disillusioned to know that I live in a country in which he will not even be given a chance to try. Turning away hard-working individuals with good intentions will not “Make America Great,” but it will destroy the vibrant diversity that I was lucky enough to experience in my hometown.

Tess Halpern is the Opinion/Editorial editor and can be reached at tjhalpern@umass.edu.

Comments
7 Responses to “Whose American Dream?”
  1. no human is illegal says:

    The consistent phrasing of “illegal immigrants” is insensitive and perpetuates bigotry. There are plenty of other ways to refer to someone without documentation or seeking status.

  2. Vj in Colorado says:

    Pretty straight forward. Him and his mother did not follow US law, so they will have to pay the price. Illegal i migration does not magically become legal because of the sad story. If a country has no laws, lawlessness will rule ans society will decline until there is no society.

    Reality is follow the law and there are no issues. Having dreams does not make them legal.

  3. Ciaran Tuomey says:

    When I enrolled at UMass you damn sure checked my visa status. everyone must obey the immigration rules are we all equal no mather where we come from?

  4. Stacey Trap says:

    Well said Tess. I am very proud of you, Diego and all our graduates at Ossining High School.
    Diversity was the reason my husband and I moved to Ossining 22 years ago just before the birth of our eldest child. We wanted our children to grow up nurtured in a vibrant, integrated community. They have and are better, stronger, kinder, more understanding people for it.

    I am also proud of our community for supporting those who have less than they and are just looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Ossining is a shining example of what America stands for both at home and all over the world. America is great and it starts right here in Ossining with our inclusive and mutually supportive community.

    Lastly, my heart goes our to Diego, his mother and all our immigrant brothers and sisters who now live in fear.

  5. David Hunt 1990 says:

    They’re not “undocumented immigrants”, they’re HERE ILLEGALLY!

    Is the guy who breaks into your room a burglar, or an “undocumented resident”?

    Is the man who rapes you a rapist or an “undocumented boyfriend”?

    Borders, language, and culture define a nation. But then, it’s been the ambition of the seditious, treasonous Left to destroy America…

  6. elizabethw says:

    It’s not ‘xenophobia” to want immigrants to contribute to the country and to come here legally; to tolerate and allow illegal immigration is extremely unfair and an injustice to legal immigrants.

    The current mindset of immigrants today is one of entitlement. The United States owes absolutely nothing to immigrants, if anything they should be asking themselves, how do I assimilate, how do I adopt to the culture, what can I contribute to the united states?

    Part of this entitlement is expectations, not only do some immigrants think they can come here illegally without any consequences, first generation immigrants expect special benefits,recognition, privilege. It takes -generations- before an immigrant family can truly benefit from the country and be recognized.

    It took europeans, Irish,Italian, Germans, multiple generations to make something for themselves. When they first came here, they were the victim of prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination. Many employers did not want to hire the Irish or Italians and even openly put signs in the front of businesses; they were called names; they had to take the worst jobs and often lived in abject poverty. But those immigrants worked hard, they provided for their families, their sons and daughters were better off and after the first generation, moved into the middle-class. Now present and past, immigrant groups like the Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans are recognized for their contributions to our country.

    Yet immigrants today automatically expect recognition, they automatically expect to enter the middle-class, they automatically expect benefits that others had to accrue over generations. Immigrants like muslims expect and demand special recognition like holidays named after them, special laws, changes in how our society works despite recently coming here. They expect and demand more than those who had been here far longer.

    The american dream was never about immigration anyway, the american dream always appealed to the lower class, to the ordinary man, to the working man, to those who believed hard work, merit and determination could allow one to economically rise and better their lives. The american dream is just that a dream. Immigrants , legal and illegal need to start learning how to adapt, assimilate and follow the law. If they don’t appreciate our country, then they shouldn’t live here.

    The hard stance against immigration today is a consequence of the policies of liberals and the attitudes of immigrants today and will only continue and get worst, as long as this doesn’t change.

  7. Nitzakhon says:

    “Illegal alien” is absolutely correct.

    They are here ILLEGALLY, and the legal term for non-citizens is ALIENS. My wife, before she became a US citizen, was a RESIDENT ALIEN.

    As to those with illegal-philia: Does it take someone you love getting robbed, raped, or even murdered by a multiple-time deported illegal alien for you to get it?

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