Whose American Dream?

By Tess Halpern

(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 [email protected]