A movie recently opened called Spare Parts recounting, in classic Hollywood fashion, the true story of a group of high schools that overcame the odds to win a major robotics competition. The fact that a ragtag group of high-schoolers beat out teams from some of the most prestigious tech colleges in the US was quite amazing. However, what made the story truly special was that these kids were immigrants living in an impoverished, gang ridden neighborhood. They attended a high school that had no resources or provided much support. They had to hustle and scrape by just to pull together their submission, and the chances of success were definitely not in their favor. On top of it, they were illegal immigrants from Mexico.
However,I have to admit that I had not heard of the movie or the original story in Wired from 2005, until I read an opinion piece in the New York Times. I may check out the movie, but hearing about the after story of these four high school kids was quite eye opening. It puts into context the current debate on immigration, and a face to the nameless victims of US immigration policy:
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program created by President Obama’s executive order that shields some undocumented students and young adults from deportation, didn’t go into effect until 2012. Had it been in place when the Carl Hayden students were in high school, allowing them to legally work, their lives might have turned out very differently. They have surmounted enormous odds, but none were able to professionally pursue their passion for robotics. It is a startling rebuke to the American dream.
House Republicans seem to view this as a fitting outcome. Recently, John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, introduced legislation that would roll back the president’s order. If he is successful, talented young people like Mr. Santillan and Mr. Arcega could be deported at any moment. “After a while you get used to disappointment,” Mr. Arcega said to me. “I try not to have high expectations anymore.”
Those who oppose granting residency to these immigrants argue that it would deny resources to existing residents and citizens. But we’ve already invested in these students all through elementary and high school. Why not continue and get a return on that investment?
When are we going to realize that immigrants are not invaders or enemies? We are squandering immense human potential and talent because of obtuse political principles, xenophobia, and outright racism. It is times to stop these destructive and counterproductive measures that ship talented people over the border, and fix our immigration policies to attract and keep that talent here in the US.
Image credit: CC by Bob Mical