This past semester I had the opportunity to travel down to the U.S.- Mexican border with a group from Phillips Theological Seminary to study border and immigration issues with an organization called Borderlinks. It was an eye-opening experience; we traveled across the border for two days, staying at a local community center in Nogales, Senora Mexico. For the other days, we were in Tucson, Arizona and the surrounding area exploring the many facets of this complex issue. One of the last days of the trip we had the opportunity to sit and talk with a group called Scholarships A-Z. This group was founded by young adults seeking to create a resource for themselves and their fellow students to find scholarships to help them pay for college. These students are children of undocumented immigrants and their organization is to help similar students fund higher education since their current immigration status makes them ineligible for any kind of government aid or even “in-state” tuition.
My group and I sat in the basement of the Borderlinks facility in a clutter-filled office that had only been recently given to Scholarships A-Z for use, and listened to two of the leaders of the group (both children of undocumented immigrants, both full-time students at the local community college, both trying to fulfill their dreams of receiving an education) share their story with us. These young Americans shared the story of how their organization came to be, how they had struggled –and continue to struggle—finding ways to finance their education because of their legal status and how they and others like them decided to start this organization to meet those needs. These were smart guys; both had excelled in high school and had bright futures ahead. The only problem was that their immigration status made financing that education nearly impossible, so they had set out to organize a list of scholarships that were available to other young students in their situation.
As I sat listening to them that afternoon, I was less than sympathetic. Already feeling uneasy from a stomach bug I had apparently caught while south of the border, I was dealing with the mental anxiety of having just found out my grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer when I was calling my mom to tell her that my baby daughter had been taken to the hospital the night before. I already had a lot on my plate. Sure, they had a sad story, but so do millions of other American kids from poor backgrounds trying to achieve a better life. After all, I know firsthand how hard financing higher education can be. My wife and I have taken out countless loans to pay for our education and probably will still be paying them off by time by own daughter is ready for college. Oh, yeah, and I’ve got to somehow save up for her college. “We’ve all got problems,” I thought.
Then it hit me, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., came sounding forth in my mind. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Here I was, worried only about myself, forgetting that I will never have justice if these young men don’t have justice, I will never find affordable education if these young men can’t find affordable education. I realized, then and there, that justice for them—affordable higher education for these young men—whether it be in the form of scholarships, government loans, pell grants, or instate tuition would be in turn justice—or affordable education for myself, my wife, and my young daughter. Because we are all interconnected, when one suffers, we all suffer. When one is healed, we are all healed. When one finds affordable education, we all find affordable education.
I continue to be amazed how easy it is for me to take that same path, to worry only about myself and my own needs. I see that same tendency so often in our society. As we fight for resources, we grab them for ourselves, squeezing them ever so tightly in our fists. Yet, what happens, the tighter we squeeze, the more they slip out through the cracks between our fingers. If we would rather open our hand, we would find that there is enough for me, enough for you, and enough for these young men in Tucson.
One of the ways we can make affordable education a reality today is by supporting the passage of the DREAM act legislation in our own states and nationwide. In supporting the DREAM act, You support high-schoolers across the country dreaming of achieving an education for themselves, for their family, for their country, and for their world. Get more info about the DREAM act here. I encourage you to call your congressman, which you can find here, because affordable education must be a reality for ALL.