In 2001, recruiters from the New York City Department of Education went to the Caribbean nations looking for teachers. Many of the teachers were women—mothers who would not leave their children behind. The DOE made many promises, and told the teachers that if they came to the U.S., they and their families would be granted permanent residency.
Mikhel Crichlow and Alden Nesbitt were two of the young children who came to the U.S. from Trinidad & Tobago with their mothers.
“My parents desired to give me the best opportunity they could to see my dreams fulfilled, so when the offer came that would provide me an opportunity to actually live my dream, I was overjoyed,” says Crichlow, 27.
Eleven years later, Crichlow and Nesbitt are still fighting for the legal right to be in the U.S.
The issue, Crichlow says, is that the immigration process is painfully slow, which means that some teachers are only now getting their green cards. But once children turn 21, they age out of the system, and so are left in limbo, with no means to get permanent residency, despite their parents’ legal status.
One way for young people like Crichlow to get legal status is the DREAM Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow undocumented youth who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 to get citizenship, after completion of a college degree or two years of military service.
President Obama has been praised for his support of the DREAM Act. While the law has yet to pass congress, in June 2012, the president issued a directive to the Department of Homeland Security granting youth who would be eligible for the DREAM Act work authorization papers, and a reprieve from deportation.
Nesbitt, who lives in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, says that he has lived in constant fear of deportation.
“Being a black immigrant has made my situation worse. I am in constant risk of deportation due to the stop and frisk policies that run rampant in our communities,” says Nesbitt, 21. “We’re constantly being stopped because my hat is low, our hoodies are dark, and because our skin is black.”
Realizing that they we would have to advocate on their own behalves, the Caribbean teachers and their children formed the Association of International Educators (AIE) and The International Youth Association (TIYA) respectively. Through TIYA, Crichlow and Nesbitt have been fighting, along with other immigrant rights groups, to get the New York state version of the DREAM Act passed, as it would allow students an opportunity to benefit from the state-wide financial aid program, Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
“I didn't come to America illegally, America came to me,” Crichlow says. “Our parents brought us here because they believe in the American Dream and growing up in this culture we share in these beliefs. The city government came to my mother and made promises they could not keep. The DREAM Act is the only immigration relief that now exists for me.”