On his way to Lafayette, La., 19-year-old David Morales believed he was going to attend bible college, where he would learn the word of God and become a pastor. It was his dream. In many ways, it was the American dream, but before he even made it to his destination, David experienced a nightmare at the hands of immigration officials.
Morales came from a family of modest means, being the first in his family to graduate high school. Now, he believed, he was going to be the first one to attend college. That all changed when his bus was stopped, immigration officials came aboard, and asked David a single question:
"Are you an American citizen?"
After admitting that he was not a citizen, Morales was arrested and spent 17 days in jail before his family posted a $4,000 bond, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. He is now in the trial process and at risk of being deported to Mexico, a country he vaguely remembers and has few remaining ties to.
Morales was not born in the United States, but you would not guess that by talking to him. His family brought him to Utah from Mexico when he was 9 years old and was soon speaking more English than Spanish. He did well in school, kept out of trouble, and volunteered in his community, both as a fundraiser for homeless teenagers and as a Spanish interpreter during parent-teacher conferences at his local elementary school.
It could be said that David was a "model citizen" – and that is why, facing the threat of deportation, David has become the epitome of why supporters of the DREAM Act, which creates legal methods for undocumented immigrants to attain legal status, are still fighting to get the legislation passed, despite being struck down in December last year.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act hopes to give children who were brought illegally into the U.S. by their parents a "second chance" of sorts if they have shown to abide by a list of restrictions:
• Arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16
• Have proof of being in the country for at least five years
• Graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or has been admitted to an institute of higher education
• Be between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time of the bill's enactment
• Have registered with the Selective Service if male
• Be of "good, moral character" (a legal definition that essentially means one is not a criminal or troublemaker)
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, people who know Morales say he fits the requirements perfectly.
"David is one of those kids you don't want to lose," said Erik Contreras, co-chairman of the Utah Latino Legislative Task Force and a Morales family friend. "He is a role model. He is the kind of kid we need involved in our community."
Michele Callahan, Morales' high school principal, agreed.
"He was very unique for a kid this age. He was always thinking of others rather than himself. Everybody loved him," she said. "I hope for a good outcome for him. I know he had big plans."
However, with immigration being one of the country's hottest issues, there are people who say that despite the "good, moral character" of Morales, illegal immigration needs to be stopped.
"It's unfair at a personal level for Mister Morales to have to face a situation like that," Eli Cawley, president of the Utah Minuteman Project, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "But then again, life isn't fair. If you want fair, you join the Girl Scouts. There are lots of situations where children have to accept the unfair [circumstance] that is foisted on them by their parents."
Some have even said that the country's move towards stricter immigration laws, such as the recent Alabama legislation that has caused many Hispanic people to leave the state, according to an article on the conservative blog, Daily Caller. The Daily Caller also reports that hiring is up in one Alabama county because so many undocumented workers have left, causing job openings for legal residents.
"It is amazing to see the effects," said Chuck Ellis, a member of the city council in Albertville, Ala. "A large proportion of the illegal Hispanic community has moved … self-deportation is a real thing."
Ellis added that unemployment dropped from 9.5 percent to 9.3 percent over the last few weeks.
A .20 percent decrease is not an impressive number, and possibly unrelated to the Alabama immigration law – especially since so many of those who left were undocumented, meaning their jobs were not officially registered. However, in a time of mass unemployment, some will say that any decrease is significant.
Of course, human beings are more than decimal point figures, and mass desertions have much more of an effect on an area than a few job openings.
In Cullman, Ala., area businessman Bobby Noles said he would be losing money from so many Hispanic people leaving the area, according to the Cullman Times.
"I'll be losing about $4,000 a month in rent," Noles said. "Even if you try to explain that they can stay, they're nervous and don't fully understand the law. They believe there's something that could happen to cause them trouble."
In addition, Noles said that although undocumented workers do not officially pay income taxes, employers are able to legally deduct taxes from their books. Area businesses also benefit from having more people buying more products.
"You also have to think of the huge impact they’ve had on our economy when they arrived here," Noles was quoted as saying in the Cullman Times. "They buy gas, pay rent, buy groceries and a lot of other things. Sure they send money home, but they have to live while they’re here and they spend a lot of money to do that."
They also attend church.
Bishop William Willimon, of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, told The Christian Post Sept. 29 that when Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bill into law in June, the impact was felt immediately in some churches.
"We were concerned. The minute the law was passed I started hearing from pastors," Willimon said.
"One of our congregations, the Sunday after this was passed, had a 50 percent drop in attendance," he said.
And then there is David Morales. Caught in the middle of the whirlwind of immigration legislation, the 19-year-old is currently living in Utah and awaiting his Dec. 8 trial, which will determine whether or not he can stay in the country where his family lives on a working permit good for one year, Morales told CP today. After that, he will have to keep re-applying for one-year permits in order to be in the U.S. legally until he is eligible for American citizenship.
If he is denied the working permit, Morales will ask to leave the U.S. voluntarily in order to avoid being deported, which will mean he will have to wait at least ten years before being allowed back in the country.
The setbacks have forced Morales to put his Bible college plans on hold for the time being. Oval Bible College in Louisiana does not accept undocumented students and Utah-area Bible colleges are reluctant to accept him due to his recent media exposure, Morales said.
Such is the bureaucratic process for Mexico-born, American-raised teenager who wants to be a pastor.
However, despite the setbacks, Morales has turned the negatives into a positive. He is currently attending his first semester at Salt Lake Community College and considering majoring in Sociology. He has also become heavily involved in the movement to get the DREAM Act passed by speaking out at schools and churches.
At a rally in Salt Lake City last month, Morales spoke to DREAM supporters about his and many others' experiences with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), KSL.com reported.
"What ICE is doing is wrong," he told the crowd. "What I had to go through was wrong. (It is) wrong for any hardworking American to live through what I went through."
But Morales and other DREAMers, as they like to be called, are getting their voices heard.
"Many are rising out of the shadows and raising their voices and saying we will no longer stand in silence," Morales said. "We are undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic."
"In a way, I'm glad I went to jail because I have been able to meet so many DREAMers," he told CP, adding that he has been able to assist many immigrants who do not know where to go or are just too afraid to find out.
"People who are afraid to talk, I can be a voice for them," he added.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is expected to deport nearly half-a-million undocumented people this year – the most ever in a single year, the AFP reported. But Morales, who has not given up his dreams of attending Bible college to become a pastor, believes people should continue living their lives and not let the fear of deportation prevent them from living their lives or attending church.
"I don't think people should be afraid. If God brought us here to this country, it's for a reason," Morales said. "God has control over everything, so people should not be afraid of congregating…but we should pray."
Morales' optimism and faith leads him to believe that the legal threats undocumented people are facing will soon end.
"Something has to happen. This can't go on forever. We're not sitting still."