Community and Culture
Dream Act: Future cloudy for Forks teen
— Raul Vasquez, Peninsula Daily News, 2005, reprinted with permission
She is 17, and like many young women her age, the promise of the future is beginning to bloom before her eyes.
Only that for Laura, a junior at Forks High School who spends most of her evenings and weekends working at a Forks restaurant, she lacks something that most of her peers take for granted.
Technically, Laura [her identity is being withheld at the request of her father] is a Mexican national.
But ever since she first crossed the U.S.-Mexian border illegally with her parents at age 6—she's crossed illegally a total of four times—most of her youth has unfolded on this side of the border, in U.S. schools.
Today, Laura maintains above a 3.2 grade-point average at Forks High and lives with her sister and father, who works as a migrant contractor on the West End cutting and selling cedar shingles—a prime business among Forks' Latino population of approximately 500 people.
"Math is my worst subject, because I understand it better in Spanish than I do in English," Laura stated.
"I'm really bad in it, I get like B's and C's."
By her own admission, what happens after she graduates in 2006 worries her.
"We could say that if I was legal, I would know what to do," Laura said in an interview that jumped back and forth between English and Spanish.
"But every time I think of doing something, like going to college, I think of my situation.
"Maybe if I went to Mexico, I might have a better future than here."
Laura is confident, eloquent and quick on er feet.
But like thousands of children born in Mexico and other Latin American counties who are brought by their parents into the United States without papers, Laura pauses when asked what country she feels she belongs to.
The only thing she really misses from her home in the Mexican state of Sonora, south of Arizona and New Mexico, are her grandparents, especially since her mother died after battling a long illness there in December 2003.
That was the last time she visited the country of her birth.
Like every other time she came into the United States, she crossed the border through a desolate and dangerous region i Arizona with the help of "coyotes"—people who specialize in smuggling people across the border.
For now, however, she said she wants to attend college in Washington to become a lawyer.
"I really love history," she said.
But because she lacks a valid Social Security number—which you need to apply for federal financial aid—she's said she's setting her sights on the Art INstitute of Seattle where she can become a chef for about $13,000 a year.
"That's the cheapest option," she said dryly.
"It's hard for me to do what I want to do.
"sometimes I think I won't be able to afford college."
Forks a helpful home
Laura's home for half of her life has been Forks, which holds the largest population of Latino immigrants on the North Olympic Peninsula.
an analysis of the 2000 Census showed that the influx of mostly Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants is responsible for Forks' 9 percent population growth over 10 years—from 2,862 to 3,120 people.
Except for isolated incidents in which students have gone out of their way to insult her because she's Mexican"I can puke on you because this is my country and not yours," a student once told her. Laura says people in Forks have been helpful to her and her family.
But she admits that today's Forks immigrant population lives mostly in fear, especially because Congress has moved closer to passing the Real ID Act, which would prohibit undocumented immigrants from acquiring driver's licenses.
"yeah, people are really afraid—I mean, I could be afraid of it," she said.
"But you can hardly have your voice heard."
Pays income taxes
Ironically, Laura—who pays taxes using a Tax Identification number for her jobs—is preparing a class project that contrasts U.S. immigration policies among those of different countries.
If you're CUban and you enter the country illegally, for example, you are granted residency, Laura said.
But not if you're Mexican.
"This land may not be the land of opportunity that it once was," Laura said, reflecting on her own legal situation versus those of earlier generations of immigrants to this country.
"In Los Angeles, for example, you can see so many that have immigrated and ended up living in cardboard boxes.
Maybe here, so many people have arrived that the dream is over"