Pardon Me

It's no fun being an illegal alien

NT: You know, the DREAM Act sounds cool, but the changes made to it sort of gutted it. Now, the act would deny undocumented students federal education grants and place them on an international student tracking system. Like you're terrorists or something!

Nava: You do have to register for the same thing that a lot of, like, Arab people have to -- you know, they have to sign up for --

NT: Like when child molesters have to register their offenses?

Outlaw learner Luis Nava is now allowed to be illegal.
Jeff Newton
Outlaw learner Luis Nava is now allowed to be illegal.

Nava: Yeah. It's definitely kind of right wing.

NT: There's a lot of talk about changing immigration law, but what are we supposed to do, stop people at the border and say, "Well, we'll let you in if you've got a smart kid or two"?

Nava: I think the way the bill is written now, as long as you pass high school, you get conditional residency, pending your completion of a two-year degree at a university or two years in the military. A lot of people say, "Let's get these kids into the military and make them into real Americans." They're questioning our patriotism, and it's ridiculous.

NT: Making a soldier out of you will make you more of an American?

Nava: They think because we're born in another country we're less patriotic than the rest of you.

NT: There are tens of thousands of undocumented students in this country.

Nava: Sixty-five thousand that graduate every year from high school. To me, it's a human issue. You've got this umbrella of immigration, and they lump students together with coyotes and [day laborers], and it doesn't match up. They're like, "We have to set an example with these students that illegal immigration won't be tolerated. If we let them stay, it will open a floodgate [of illegal immigrants]." All they'll say is, "Illegal is illegal."

NT: Who's next -- undocumented gardeners? I hope not!

Nava: (Laughs.) It's easy to say, "He's illegal." But people immediately think of someone standing outside of Home Depot. And it's not always the case. A lot of my dad's friends own their own homes, stuff like that. I mean, there's 11 million undocumented immigrants here. Most of them are not standing outside of Home Depot.

NT: I hope not! There'd be no room to park!

Nava: They're a small percentage, but the right wing can point to them and say, "See? They're just standing around making a mess."

NT: What if you'd been forced to leave?

Nava: It's one of the reasons I had to graduate early, in three years -- I had to make sure that, even if I left, I still had accomplished some of my goals.

NT: Those 65,000 undocumented students -- will they be gotten after by immigration officials now?

Nava: Immigration doesn't look for them! Immigration only looks for people at the border, or people who've committed a crime. All these undocumented high school students who are here won't be touched by immigration.

NT: As long as they don't try to visit Canada.

Nava: Exactly. But all those 65,000 high school students, they won't have the opportunity to go to college, and their knowledge is going to be lost. They're going to have to get construction jobs or work in restaurants or hotels. It's a shame.

NT: We're not a particularly welcoming country. What happens to you now?

Nava: Now that I have a four-year degree, I can [accept] a job offer. But I have to be able to prove that any other willing American can take that job.

NT: Wait. What? You have to prove that you're not getting special treatment as a new hire? That white guys were also candidates?

Nava: Yeah. Or that I have special skills that will especially qualify me for [the job]. But it's okay, because I do have a certificate in international business. And I do speak Spanish. I think that will help me out a little bit. It's ironic, huh?

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