Staying in School Despite an Uncertain Future It's a paradox: Youths in the United States illegally can earn high-school and college degrees, but after graduation are likely to find themselves confined to the underground economy. Christian, 15, tells his story.
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Staying in School Despite an Uncertain Future

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Staying in School Despite an Uncertain Future

Staying in School Despite an Uncertain Future

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Now, we have the story of a 15-year-old who's trying to avoid this future. His name is Christian. We agreed not to use his last name because of his immigration status. He's one of member station WNYC's Radio Rookies.

CHRISTIAN: Right now, there are about 20 guys out here. They don't look so happy and their clothes doesn't look so clean at all. Sometimes my stepdad is one of them. I've worked with my stepdad in a few jobs, and I know I don't want to spend my whole life breaking concrete for $100 a day. But when I look at the men on Port Richmond Avenue, I see myself in the future, standing there, waiting. And it makes me feel depressed.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHATTING)

CHRISTIAN: I started high school this year, and someday I want to become an engineer or maybe an archeologist. I want to learn about my ancestors, the Aztec people and find some ruins that no one has ever found.

U: There is the Mexican runaway from the border.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

U: I heard two illegal Mexicans got married at the top of the fence.

CHRISTIAN: My friends are all from different backgrounds and we make jokes about each other every day.

U: Christian is a true Mexican. Why, you might ask? Because his pants are full of paint, which is what Mexicans always come to work in.

U: True.

CHRISTIAN: When we got to Staten Island, I learned how to read and write in English, and forgot a lot of my Spanish. I played with my Hot Wheels in the driveway and watched "Pokemon" on TV. But the difference between me and most of my friends is, four years from now, they'll be getting ready to go to college. They could become firemen, astronauts, mechanics, anything they want. But when I turn 18, I will either have to go back to Mexico and start all over, or hide for the rest of my life living (Spanish spoken), under the line, underground.

MIKEY: (Spanish spoken)

CHRISTIAN: My cousin Mikey is four years older than me, but we play video games and hang out a lot like if we were brothers. When we were little, Mikey really wanted to become a U.S. Marine. He thought it will make my aunt proud of him and help him pay for college.

MIKEY: Even if, you know, it looks scary and everything, it looks really dangerous, I want to go, you know? And definitely, I want to go to get - go to college and maybe I can be someone in this country. I don't know.

CHRISTIAN: When he was in 10th grade, Mikey talked to military recruiters in his high school, but they told him he couldn't join because he was undocumented.

MIKEY: When they say no, I'm like - then, you know, I just walk away and it's like, I don't know what to do. And it's not like I have two choices.

CHRISTIAN: Soon after that, Mikey tried to get a job as a plumber, but he couldn't because he didn't have legal papers. Then he just decided to drop out of high school. It's not just Mikey, I know a lot of kids who drop out. Some of them are already working as day laborers. Some of them joined gangs.

U: (Singing in Spanish)

CHRISTIAN: Most of the people at my church come from Mexico. And our priest, Father Michael(ph) says he sees this all the time.

F: I see in this neighborhood, people who are in sophomore or junior year of high school, because they do not have citizenship or papers, think, well, there's no sense studying or working or doing anything gives a person a feeling of what's the use. That's a very sad thing to do to youth - to frustrate all that energy and talent.

CHRISTIAN: There's a law they've been debating for a long time. It will make it possible for kids in my situation to become citizens if they finish two years of college or military service. It's called the Dream Act.

U: (Spanish spoken)

CHRISTIAN: My little brother Dominic(ph) was born here. So how does it feel to be an American citizen?

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY TALKING)

CHRISTIAN: Okay. How does it feel to know that you're going to have a better future than I am?

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY TALKING)

CHRISTIAN: How does it feel to be a furry monkey?

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY TALKING)

CHRISTIAN: For NPR News, I'm Christian in New York.

BLOCK: Christian produced his story for Radio Rookies, a project of WNYC in New York that trains teenagers to make radio documentaries. It was produced by Melissa Robbins with Kaari Pitkin and edited by Marianne McCune.

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