I was ten years old when I first read the Grapes of Wrath. I am now sixty-five years old, but I clearly remember how upon reading the novel I immediately connected to the story. I understood the oppressive experiences of the “okies” because at that time I was the daughter of Mexican farm laborers working in the strawberry fields of Watsonville and we were very poor. The oppressive conditions as described by Steinbeck have much improved, but oppression of certain groups still exit. One of those groups is undocumented immigrant youth. For a year now I have had the privilege of assisting undocumented students from Cabrillo College in their scholarship applications. I have heard their stories of oppressive conditions in education, health care, and labor. Grandpa was quoted, “This is my country. I b’long here…I ain’t a-goin” (p. 142). Undocumented students were brought to this country as children. This is the only country they know. This is their home. They’re not going anywhere. Consequently, immigration reform is needed to support them.
All parents want their children to have a good education. However, in schools today many educators lack the skills to teach second language learners. This has been an obstacle for success for many of the undocumented students. In Santa Cruz County most undocumented students are Spanish-speaking. Undocumented students have felt the humiliation of not being able to speak the English language; not being able to read English correctly or not able to write English correctly. Consequently, as young adults they now lack the confidence and skills of being able to write personal essays for their scholarship applications. Some of these students have been in the United States for six years or longer and they have not yet learned the English Language. The lack of English development affects them academically. They may have graduated from high school or received their G.E.D., but they are not prepared for higher education. The educational system has failed them.
Most undocumented youth come from families that cannot afford medical insurance and health care. Consequently, when ill they often revert to herbal remedies such as yerba buena (spearmint) for fever, manzanilla (chamomile) for vomiting, clavo (cloves) for tooth-aches and many others. Often these remedies do not suffice and they are unable to get medical care because of lack of insurance. For citizens who lack health insurance, Obamacare will now take care of them. However, undocumented youth will not be eligible for Obamacare. They will not be eligible for diagnosis or treatment of illness or disease. The lack of health care and insurance is an added stress for them as they attempt to attain a degree.
On June 15, 2012 President Obama initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This initiative will protect undocumented immigrants 30 years and younger from being deported for two years. It will also give them a work permit. However, for those who do not apply or are denied, the oppressive work conditions will continue. There are Cabrillo students who on the days they don’t have class work very long hours in the fields. There are others who have been given work in restaurants and will work up to ten hours without overtime pay. And there are those who clean houses or do gardening work for very little pay. This is because the employer knows they are undocumented and they will not complain of their working conditions. It is against the law to give employment to undocumented residents, but sometimes employers turn a blind eye to these workers. Undocumented youth are held hostage in the labor system.
Immigration reform is needed to relieve undocumented students from the oppressive conditions as described above. One of those reforms is the D.R.E.A.M. Act. The D.R.E.A.M. Act would permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military. Students with this conditional permanent resident status would be able to work, drive, go to school, and otherwise participate normally in day-to-day activities on the same terms as other Americans. The D.R.E.A.M. act would legitimize their “Americanship”.
John Steinbeck expressed his social and political views in the Grapes of Wrath. We as citizens of this great country have the responsibility of continuing his fight. We must eliminate the oppressive conditions of our undocumented youth. We must have immigration reform and support the D.R.E.A.M. Act.