But why? I think. Why focus on school if we can’t afford to send me to college anyway? Not without a scholarship, and we all know I can’t get one if I’m not a citizen or a legal resident. All the federal and state aid grants require a social security number and proof of legal residency or citizenship—of which I have neither.
I’m going to miss the UC application deadline that’s coming up, but I can’t worry about college right now. With my mom out of work, I have to do something. I can’t let them lose the house. I can’t let my little brothers suffer. I’ve been so selfish this whole time, thinking about only my own dreams and fears. In cheer you can’t let one person take on the weight of the whole team. It’s the same with family. Everyone needs to support each other.
“Why not?” I ask. “I can do it.”
“Absolutely not,” Mom says. She reaches across the table and grabs my hands. “You need to keep your focus on school. There must be scholarships or grants other than government ones. Maybe we can take out a private loan or something.”
She’s in denial, I think.
“We’ll figure it out. You deserve to go,” she tells me.
“And you deserve better than cleaning up other people’s messes, Mom,” I say. “You could get a different kind of job.”
Dad scoffs. “That’s not going to happen without citizenship. Or at least another set of fake papers.”
“I’m tired of lying,” Mom says. “We need to do things the right way.”
Mom tells us that she’s found several lawyers who help undocumented people, but they’re all shady. “It’s a scam. They want too much money. Isn’t there an alliance out there of lawyers who want to help people like us who are already here and have been for years?”
“Better to leave it alone,” Dad says. “Fly under the radar. These issues are debated on the news every day. Politicians never solve the problems. They just talk. Worrying about it isn’t going to fix anything.”
“What if your boss finds out you’re illegal?” Mom asks. “How do you know my supervisor won’t call your boss? How do you know they won’t send someone to the house? Is that how you want to live? Just waiting for the hammer to fall?”
“There’s no hammer,” Dad says. “We just got unlucky. Thousands of undocumented workers live in Los Angeles. What are they going to do? Deport all of us? Take a month off. You need the break.”
“No,” Mom says. “We need the money. I’ll get another job. I’ve done it before. I can do it again. It just might take time to find the right one.”
Despite our arguments, I love how my mother can be so tough. She may have a little breakdown, but then she’s back up on her feet, fighting for herself again.
I’m a fighter too.
I go back to my room and turn on my computer. With a start, I realize that tomorrow is the last day to turn in the acceptance form for the National Scholarship, as the awards dinner is next weekend in D.C.! I have to go. I earned it, like Millie said. But how? I can’t fake a social security number. Maybe I’ll just say I need more time to turn in the acceptance form, but that I still want to go to the reception? If giving them the wrong information on the form is too risky, at least I’ll still be able to meet the president.
I pull the award letter out of my jewelry box. There’s a contact email at the top. Suzanne Roberts. Liaison for the United States Department of Education.
I immediately type out an email apologizing for being so late and wondering if I can still attend the dinner. Can they schedule a last-minute flight for me? Am I too late? Did I miss the greatest opportunity I’ve had in my whole life?
“Jasmine!” Dad yells. “You left your backpack in the middle of the living room! I could have tripped over the damn thing!”
I go back to get it. Dad has just kicked Isko off the television and changed the channel to MSNBC, when it’s suddenly announced that a new immigration reform bill could give millions of undocumented workers legal status. This is the bill my parents were talking about earlier.
Dad’s excited and turns up the volume loud so we can all hear.
“Pilar! Come here!” Dad shouts.
“Why are you turning that up?” Danny asks. “The news is so boring.”
Dad ignores him, and the boys run out to play video games as Mom comes into the room.
The TV news anchor has a large forehead. His foundation has been heavily applied and his eyes are bulging from his head, probably due to those crazy clips they use under their hair to stretch the skin smooth (I’ve seen YouTube tutorials, natch). He looks like a pale pink fish. “Possible good news for undocumented workers in the US,” he says in his dull pseudoexcited voice. “Our political analyst Jessica Hart has the full report in our special segment ‘Immigration in America,’ brought to you by Carl’s Jr. and Watson Worldwide Construction.”
Jessica wears a starchy bright yellow dress. All I can focus on are her blindingly white teeth as she greets the news anchor.
“Wasn’t she the weather girl last week?” Dad says. “How can she be a political analyst?”
“Be quiet,” Mom says.
Jessica stares into the camera. Her face is suddenly serious. “Immigration Reform Bill No. 555 passed the Senate last week, which means there’s only one hurdle left, and that’s a rather big one in the climate of the current House of Representatives.”
The screen shows Latino field workers and housekeepers.
“Why do the news stations always show Latinos?” Dad complains. “There are a lot of immigrants in this country. Filipinos, Burmese, Turkish, Nigerian, Iranians, Chinese, Ethiopians...”
“Dad!” I say. “I can’t hear.”
He throws his hands up. He can never win when Mom and I are around.
Jessica is still talking. “The bill, according to Washington analysts, includes tightening border security on high-risk rural areas where drugs and undocumented aliens are routinely smuggled...”
“The same old story,” Dad says. “It’s not my fault this country is addicted to drugs! You can’t blame me for that. Even the radio reported that immigrants were the least likely group of people to commit a crime.” He starts shouting at the TV. “Check the facts!”
Mom elbows him.
Jessica continues reading from the teleprompter scrolling the words for her. “Section 2011b establishes registered provisional immigrant status, granted to eligible aliens who apply within the application period and pay the fee, including any application penalty fees, both of which may exceed $500...”
She’s still talking when I hear a beep go off on my phone, signaling that I’ve gotten an email. When I see who it’s from, I raise my eyebrows. Suzanne must work late, because I’ve never gotten a response that fast. I open the email, preparing myself for bad news since her answer is so short.
Ms. de los Santos—
We’re so happy to hear from you! I’m ready to book your flight from LAX to Dulles. Please send me your information so I can do so. And there’s plenty of time before the grant forms are due. I can answer any questions you have about it either over email or in person when you arrive. Looking forward to meeting you.
Department of Education Liaison
P.S. Remember to pack warmly! It’s starting to get chilly here in D.C.
I’m barely listening when Dad begins making sarcastic comments about extraterrestrials. “Aliens, huh?” he says. “You think those guys who crash landed in Roswell could afford that fine?”
Mom and I both shake our heads. Now Dad just wants to show off.
“To be eligible,” Jessica says, “aliens must have been physically present in the United States since January 1, 2012, except for certain limited absences.”
“Thank God,” Mom says, sighing. “There’s hope for us.”
“This is good?” Dad asks. Though he’s usually the positive one, he seems unconvinced. “We’ve been here long enough, but we’ll probably go bankrupt just applying to stay here.”