DMI Blog

Cristina Jimenez

The in-between Generation in a Nation of Immigrants

Since its foundation, our nation has witnessed the special contributions and success of immigrants and their children. Indeed, some of the most innovative contributions to American society have come from the children of immigrants, both the second generation (those born in the United States) and the generation known as 1.5 – those born abroad and brought to the U.S. as children. It was a Belarusian 1.5 immigrant, Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America.”

Children of immigrants are unique in that they are raised in multiple cultures and become effective at building bridges between them. The 1.5 generation, however, exhibits even a greater level of uniqueness and talent. They are immersed in their native culture long enough to learn their native language and cultural values, but come to this country early enough to easily learn English and become part of mainstream America. 1.5 immigrants tend to be fluently bilingual and bicultural, communicate easily between two worlds, and can easily connect to different cultures, approaching the ideal global citizen.

Their cultural and language fluidity has even proven to be an advantage in school performance. Although, as Albuquerque’s Mayor Martin Chavez says in a MayorTV interview, we live in the “only nation on Earth that seems to celebrate monolingualism;” studies have shown that 1.5 generation students tend to do better in school than their monolingual peers. It is immigrants' richness in multiculturalism and multilingualism that has transformed and strengthened our nation.

But like their talents, the challenges faced by some members of the 1.5 generation, are also unique. Today, there are an estimated 1.8 million undocumented children living in the United States. The immigration status of these children derives from their parents. If the parents are undocumented, there is no way for immigrant children to gain legal immigration status on their own. Although raised and educated here, undocumented children face tremendous barriers when they try to go on to college or work legally and live in fear of deportation.

Approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year with almost no hope to access higher education. But even if they overcome this barrier and complete a college education, these students face the same predicament, if not worse. Having attained a Bachelors or Masters degree, they cannot put their education into practice: their immigration status prevents them from working and contributing to our economy and society.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act
addresses the struggle of these undocumented 1.5 generation immigrants. Although it was first introduced to Congress back in 2001, the DREAM Act has lacked the political will to become a reality. Clearly Congress has, for too long, listened to the few and irrational anti-immigrant voices.

Senator Barack Obama has co-sponsored the DREAM Act and publicly announced his intention of making this bill a reality. Senator McCain on the other hand, has supported the bill in the past but walked out when it was voted on last year, stating that the elusive goal of “border security” would have to be achieved before the situation of young people already living in the United States could be addressed.
A 52-44 majority of the Senate voted in favor of the bill, but 60 votes were needed for the DREAM Act to proceed.

By ignoring these 1.5 immigrants’ aspirations and not allowing them to contribute to our society, we are throwing their invaluable talents, creativity, and knowledge to waste. And today in a globalized world, their uniqueness, multilingual and bicultural skills, and contributions are more important than ever to the success and global competitiveness of the United States. The DREAM Act is a small first step to a better and more effective immigration debate.

Cristina Jimenez: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 1:00 PM, Jul 02, 2008 in Immigration
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