"Every day I am reminded that I am not 100 percent American," said Martha Lopez-Hanratty, an activist and former director of Hispanic affairs for Westchester County. She led a discussion on the DREAM Act on September 21, 2012 at The College of New Rochelle in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.
When Lopez-Hanratty visits her native Mexico, which she left for Mamaroneck, NY nearly 40 years ago, it's not a return to home. "You're in limbo," she said.
It's a limbo that many undocumented immigrants occupy, and hope to escape, if temporarily, with the executive order by President Obama, similar to the proposed DREAM Act, that grants legal status to those who have known no home but the United States.
Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria can seek a two-year reprieve from deportation and the ability to work. The requirements are strict and include: applicants must be younger than 31 as of June 15 this year; have come to the U.S. before their 16th birthday; be enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or GED.
One CNR student, who was born in Peru but came to White Plains at age 9, is one of the "DREAMers" who has applied for the program. While she lived half of her 18 years in Peru, it's the half she has spent in the U.S. that has mattered more. It's where she's grown and accomplished much, including attending college despite being unable to apply for any financial aid.
Speaking of her native country, she said, "There are no dreams over there for me."
In this small group discussion, the question arises: Why apply when there's a risk that you'll be rejected and more easily deported?
Lopez-Hanratty said it's because more Latinos want to be part of the mainstream. They also want to do the right thing. "Did you know that undocumented people pay income taxes?" she asked. "We've always advised people to do that, to show good faith."
"The United States," said Lopez-Hanratty, "gives us the feeling that we can dream and actually acquire what we want."
(Photo: Martha Lopez-Hanratty speaks in the Leland Room at the Sweeny Student Center.)