DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In our ongoing series about the American dream, we've been exploring what it means and how it's changing. The immigrant experience is essential to it. But in some Southern states, the fight against illegal immigration has put many legal immigrants on edge. NPR's Kathy Lohr traveled to South Carolina to speak to two generations of an immigrant family about their American dreams.
KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Angel Cruz became a field worker in the Dominican Republic when he was just eight years old. He came to New York in 1964 when he was 25, and went on to do a variety of jobs, from making coat hangers to sanding cabinets in a factory, as one of his sons helps explain.
ANGEL CRUZ: (Through translator) It was hard to work.
I work in landscape.
CRUZ: Landscaping. A carpenter, too.
LOHR: His wife, Eva, came a bit later, leaving their three children behind until the couple could make enough money to bring them to the U.S. Eva sewed dresses for dolls and cleaned hotel rooms.
EVA CRUZ: I bring my family 10 months. My three kids, I bring them here.
LOHR: In 10 months, you were able to bring your children here.
CRUZ: Yes. Yes. You know, because I no stop. I worked all the time. I work night and day.
LOHR: Eva is proud her family never received any government help, like food stamps. They saw the American dream as a chance for a better life for them, and the possibility of a good education for their children. Angel and Eva never made it out of elementary school in the Dominican Republic. Just three years ago, they bought a three-bedroom ranch house in the Charleston suburbs with the cash they saved all these years.
Angel, who's 73 now, raises chickens in his backyard. A rooster and a dozen baby chicks are scurrying around. On this scorching spring day, Angel's youngest grandson, Christopher, is here playing in a blue kiddy pool.
CHRISTOPHER CRUZ: I swim, yeah.
CRUZ: Yeah? You want to go swimming?
LOHR: In the 40 years since they became citizens, this couple built their dream. Their fourth child, Angel Luis Cruz, was the only one born in America. After high school, he built a small insurance company in North Charleston that serves Hispanic and non-Hispanic customers. Just a few blocks from where his parents live, Angel Luis is up early, making breakfast for his three kids.
Angel, who turns 40 next week, says his business was doing fine until South Carolina passed legislation to get rid of illegal immigrants.
ANGEL LUIS CRUZ: I don't understand what the state is doing. Instead of, you know, embracing people, they're rejecting them.
LOHR: Cruz says he's lost more than half his business since the law passed. It allows police to stop people they suspect are in the country illegally and ask for proof of citizenship. If an undocumented worker doesn't have papers, they can be deported. Even though the law hasn't gone into effect yet, because of legal challenges, Cruz says it's had a big impact, as many in the Latino community have left the area.
CRUZ: This immigration law is hurting us, and not just us here, across the whole country. They're not thinking about Angel Insurance Agency. They're not thinking about such-and-such other business.
LOHR: To make up for his losses, Angel Luis just opened a second office, two hours away in Hilton Head. He hits the road six days a week now, while his wife staffs the Charleston office. Cruz is a devoted American. He loves this country. He joined the Army and served in the Gulf War. But he's tired and confused about being treated like he's not a citizen.
CRUZ: Because I, you know, I grew up in this country, you know. I'm American. I'm not - you know, I don't see myself like that.
LOHR: He's only had a couple of customers since this office opened a few weeks ago, but he's optimistic. Cruz believes his American dream is still attainable, even though it may take longer than he originally imagined.
CRUZ: I want to laugh and I want to enjoy life, and I want to make a difference in this world.
LOHR: Back at home, after 9:30 in the evening, Angel is clearly worn out. His family, including three-year-old Hailey, seven-year-old Angel Alexander and his wife, Prissy, are all up waiting for him.
CRUZ: You know, like I tell my son all the time, Angel, we do what have to do now so tomorrow we can do what we...
ALEX ALEXANDER: Want to do.
CRUZ: ...want to do. So you have to make sacrifices in life, and then, sooner or later, it's going to pay off. And if we don't ever get to see it, it's all right because we're going to instill this in our children that you work hard and you move forward.
LOHR: Cruz still worries about the immigration law. He says he doesn't want his kids to face the same intolerance that he has experienced.
CRUZ: Can you say it? Our Father...
ALEXANDER: Our Father...
CRUZ: ...who art in heaven.
ALEXANDER: ...who art in heaven.
CRUZ: ...allowed be thy name.
ALEXANDER: ...hallowed be thy name.
CRUZ: Thy kingdom come...
LOHR: Angel Luis Cruz says he says he has faith that America is still the best place for families to create their own dreams. Kathy Lohr, NPR News.