Young Immigrants Tell Their Stories In New Book about DREAMers

The immigration bill in Congress could provide a path to citizenship to 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. That includes about one million young people who came here as children. They call themselves DREAMers. A new book highlights some of their stories here in Houston.

When she was growing up in Houston, Thailandia Alafitta thought the word “undocumented” meant just one thing.

“It only meant we couldn’t go to Mexico.”

That’s where her family’s from.

But when she was a senior in high school, it took on new meaning. She was short $2,000 for college.

“I was freaking out. I was crying I was like, “it’s just two thousand dollars! Can’t you just come up with that, Dad or Mom?” You know, and they’re like, We can’t. I remember I couldn’t apply for any loans.”

Because she didn’t have a social security number.

“And I was just really lucky that I had a friend who was going to A&M that year with me and he was like we’re only going there by ourselves, so I’m going to let you borrow $2,000 dollars.”

Thailandia graduated from Texas A&M in 2011.

Like her, other young immigrants have similar experiences in high school.

For Kemi Bello, it was when she was applying to colleges.

“Fancy schools so to speak and, like, I couldn’t fill out their applications because you would always get to the citizenship question and there would be no other box. Like you could be a citizen or a permanent resident or an international student and those were the only three options.”

There was no option for someone like her.

Kemi left Nigeria alone as a kid and came on a tourist visa to live with her aunt in Houston.

Kemi, Thailandia and other DREAMers tell their personal stories in a new book.

“It’s called American Dreamers: The Journey from Shadow to Light.”

That’s Ana Mac Naught. She’s the immigration program manager at Neighborhood Centers, Inc.

The advocacy group just released the book this summer.

“Politics aside, I think it’s important to just you know bring these discussions to the table and make sure we’re approaching it as something that’s impacting us in Houston every day.”

The DREAMers in Houston have their own reasons to put their personal life in print.

Kemi says she wants to show the diversity of undocumented youth. She says it also gives a sense of safety.

“It’s so much harder for you to get deported if 7,000 people know about you in some way shape or form than if ICE comes to your family’s house in the middle of the night and takes you away and no one hears from you again.”

Thailandia says the word “undocumented” has meaning but it doesn’t define her.

“Having been told, ‘Oh well you’re actually nobody,’ was very hard. But all my life, you know, I was somebody. And everybody reaches that point in their life – whether they’re undocumented or not—where they’re trying to figure out who they are. I would say don’t let this little, minute detail define you.”

That’s her advice for other DREAMers in Houston.

Another DREAMers story:

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...