Sam's life as an American still a dream

  • Photo 1 of 3

    Sam takes a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

    - Dan Collison

  • Photo 2 of 3

    Sam takes in Rockefeller Center.

    - Dan Collison

  • Photo 3 of 3

    Sam soaks up the Manhattan street life.

    - Dan Collison

Sam takes in Rockefeller Center.

Sam soaks up the Manhattan street life.


KAI RYSSDAL: There's a big immigration march scheduled for Washington this Sunday. Organizers are hoping to have as many as 100,000 people show up. They want to pressure Congress and the president to get going on an immigration bill. There are, plus or minus, 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. A lot of them are kids -- some of them in high school. And when they graduate, their future is beyond just uncertain. They can't legally work, they can't drive and, in most cases, they're not eligible for government student aid.

Eighteen-year-old Sam is one of them. He was brought from Mexico to Indiana with his family when he was 5. He's in college now. He's a music major.

Independent producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister have put together a documentary about Sam, including this slice, about a trip to New York City.

Sam: This is really, really awesome. In five days, I'll be headed to New York to play for this organization called College Board. It's a an organization that pretty much deals with SATs and stuff like that, you know. And they've asked me to play the national anthem for them.

Announcer: Please rise for the national anthem, performed by Sam, an honor student and recipient of the Woody Herman Outstanding Jazz Award from Indiana.

I'm kind of nervous, and I've never been to New York. Heck, I've never been to Chicago. So this is going to be quite an experience for me.

[Sound of Sam playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" on his saxophone.]

It's a little weird to be asked to play the national anthem of a country that I'm not really of, I guess you could say. In a way, me playing the national anthem and respecting this country, it is putting in people's face, "Hey, look, I am American. I grew up with 'Power Rangers' and 'Barney' and all the same stuff you did."

When "The Star-Spangled Banner" is playing, I still put my hand over my heart because I take this country as my own. I just want to be recognized as an American, because that's what I feel like I am.


Announcer 2: Good morning everyone. We're going to get started now...

I've also been asked to tell my story at a panel about the Dream Act. That piece of legislation would basically allow students like me to gain citizenship.

Sam at panel: As many of you may know, my name is Sam. You know, growing up, we were warned about a lot of things: Don't talk to strangers. Don't get in an ice cream van with a weird guy. But also, we had the whole "Don't tell anyone what's going on."

It's always been, "Keep that to yourself. Don't tell anybody because they can turn us in and they can take everything away from us."

Sam at panel: I feel like we are a shadow society, I guess. Always hiding, always fearful of being deported. And for me, coming here was a big risk to me, because it could affect my family. I love this country very, very much; and I feel like, if I were to gain legal status, I could chase my dream of being a musician.


JP: I'm JP and I'm 23.

JP was the other undocumented student on the panel with me.

JP: I found out I was undocumented when I was 14 years old.

She got her Bachelor's and her Master's, but she can't use it, because she's not documented.

JP: Right now, I'm working as a nanny for a family on the Upper Westside. And as grateful as I am to have a job, period, in this economy, I can't help but wish everyday that I could use my degree.

One of the first things I thought when I heard JP's story was, "Wow, why should I keep going if that's just going to be me?"

JP: It's sad. I sit next to Sam, and I'm six years older, and he's just starting what I went through. And I think that's what's so tragic. It's been six years and still nothing. I'm still in the same spot.

I got terrified, because I thought, "Man, I'm not going to be able to move forward."

Announcer 2: We've come to the end of our time. I don't want to hold you up....

Right after my panel, I had to go perform. I was trying to get out and this woman came up to me and she said:

Woman: Hi. How are you?

Sam: Pretty good.

Woman: It's very nice to meet you. We run a scholarship program for first-generation students. I got an e-mail this morning that I have a little balance. So I wonder if you're interested in that scholarship?

And she just comes up and says, "I'd like to help by giving you $2,000," and it was just completely left field, but in my favor.

Sam: Yeah, we're pretty much out of money, so this is definitely going to be a great help.

Woman: So, this is my card. Do not lose it.

Sam: I won't, I won't. The $2,000 scholarship basically means that I can finish the semester at least. Oh, it's such a relief. I'm really, really excited. I'm so happy right now. Whoo!

Tour guide: We are now on our way to the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island.

That was a really, really neat experience because, visually, I didn't expect the Statue of Liberty to be that huge.

Cynthia Marcucci, audio tour guide: I'm Cynthia Marcucci. And I'm so pleased to be your guide today.

During the audio tour, I realized how many people really sacrificed a lot to come here.

Marcucci: I'm holding one of the most precious things I'll ever have. It's a piece of thin cardboard, about 4x5 inches, with the words "Inspection Card" at the top. It says that Nicoletta Puzo has been passed by the Immigration Bureau and was permitted to enter the United States of America through the Board of New York. She was 6 years old.

I think what we have in common is we just want the same thing, only in a different time period. We all just want the chance to live to our fullest potential. We're all looking for a better life for our families and our future generations.

Marcucci: Nicoletta was my grandmother. And for millions of family like ours, the Statue was and is a powerful symbol of freedom and opportunity.

It's pretty humbling actually. Just represents so much that I want to someday have -- hopefully my kids will be able to have -- that freedom. But we'll wait.

[Ending music]

Ryssdal: That's Sam playing "In a Sentimental Mood." Our story was produced by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister for Long Haul Productions, in association with Latino USA.

Sam takes in Rockefeller Center.

Sam soaks up the Manhattan street life.

Log in to post20 Comments


Dear Marketplace,
One of the things I appreciate so much about Marketplace bringing topics which affect all people, not just the business related/wall street followers... Economics is woven with the thread of decisions made by people wherever they live, and nowadays it affects us all globally.
This is a great story, and it's so interesting to read the comments that have been posted so far... both sides of the discussion are very passionate.
I so much agree with Ms. Maldonado's comment: "I believe that as long as our arguments remain in good faith, the debate will continue in an intelligent and focused manner"... Illegal Immigration is an extremely complicated issue, and we will not reach any agreement if we don't remain calm, reasonable, and may I dare to say compassionate? ... No, I’m not looking for amnesty for the sake of it... I'm looking for an integrative and intelligent approach with the purpose of start cleaning the wound and search/develop the right medicine to heal it for good... and for that we all need to take responsibility of our actions as societies of the XXI century, without holding on to double standards.
Thank you Kai and Marketplace team for airing this story… Keep up the good job!

Thank you so much to the comment below about the relevance of the immigrant community to US economy. What I appreciate the most, is the fact that not only have you spoken of the undeniable effects of immigrants, but you have chosen to focus on the positive. I believe that as long as our arguments remain in good faith, the debate will continue in an intelligent and focused manner.
I really object to arguments that use the premise of legalities as a base for moral judgements. Haven't we learned from our past US history that the laws don't always agree with morality?
Thanks again and let's continue to keep the debate positive and progressive.

In response to the earlier posters who argue that this is not a story about Markets or Economics, I offer the following observations:

Let's look more specifically at the cost/benefit analysis for the United States. Students like Sam are brought to this country as members of a family (we'll ignore their parents' decisions for the time being and note that the students usually don't have much of a say about where their parents live), and are typically educated in the Public Education System (though this is not always the case). These students then achieve at uncharacteristically high levels. In fact, should they simply follow the model of the waves of immigrants who have preceded them, the children who have immigrated (First Generation immigrants themselves) are, in the aggregate, far more likely to achieve than subsequent generations raised under similar economic and social conditions (we will also take on the presumption that most of these students come from the bottom half of the income distribution). They gain access to higher education (another longer discussion on Financial Aid and College Admissions for this group is likely forthcoming) and attain a degree. They then join a select group of Americans, about a third, with college degrees. In a postindustrial society, higher education is an avenue to success and gives the United States a competitive advantage in the 'thought-based' industries of the future. For example, take a look at the iPhone. The vast majority of profits for every iPhone sold end up in the United States, though the device is assembled in China from parts made mostly in other Asian countries. Though the device is essentially 'made' elsewhere, we still reap most of the benefit. This is because the iPhone was invented in the United States by a US citizen who pays US corporate taxes and contributes to the American GDP. Sure, not every single student is going to be Steve Jobs, but, by disallowing students like Sam to participate fully in the American economy, we don't even give him or her the chance to become one.

If you'd like more thoughts, I am happy to provie them.

The good news is that the world is one and we're all on it! Check out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations December 10, 1948. Art. 13(1) states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state." Claim world citizenship as a basic right of freedom of sovereign choice. Then write the World Service Authority for global ID documents: www.worldservice.org. WORLD CITIZEN GARRY DAVIS

I do not blame Sam for his situation but this story made me sick. His parents broke the law! Marketplace's story de-emphasized this fact. We all live with the decisions our parents made. Sam and his family should be sent back to where ever the came from. Sorry, follow the law and do the right thing. Shame on you Marketplace for airing such a story. Expecting sympathy?

If Sam is upset that he can’t use his education in America, he should should blame his parents who brought him here illegally and not American law. He received twelve years of free education in America for which he and his parents should be grateful. Is this not enough?

The obvious solution for Sam (and for other illegal immigrants) is simple: let him take his American education with him back to his country of birth. There, he can use his education to fight for change in the corrupt and inneffective government of Mexico that is partially responsible for the poverty that drives Mexicans to the U.S.

*Edit to previous post* Hmmm...it didn't like my formatting. Anyway, the script said something like "Insert Personal Comment Here".

I'm staying away from the debate, but just have a little story I'd like to share. I produced the audio tour for the Statue of Liberty, and was engineering the session in the studio when Cynthia Marcucci read the narration. The script said something like, "<insert personal story here>". When she read the part about holding her grandmother's immigration card from Ellis I got pretty moist-eyed…still do. Thanks Kai and crew for using it, I'm glad you heard the same thing I did.

Dear Marketplace, Please be careful about presenting non business related issues. Illegal immigration is multi faceted. Your lopsided presentation reflects poorly on the Show and the Issue. Sloppy, Kai! As a naturalized US citizen that played by the rules and finally received the privilege of citizenship after many years of patience and persistence, I CANNOT excuse illegal immigration. Living in California, you learn that illegals have abused the resources of this country without thought to its collective well being. It is sad but ultimately deplorable. Sam's parents made terrible life choices. Now they leave Sam to beg others to clean up their mess. So what! It is true about Canada or Australia. JP has no excuse either. She's educated. Fantastic! Go to Canada or Australia. That is where many of my former countrymen go because they do not have the next door advantage. Would I like to see more of them in the land of the free? Of course! Would I allow them to come illegally. Hell no! Play by the rules. Hey Sam! Military Service when you're 18? That is how many of my former countrymen are paying their dues for citizenship. Why can't you?

The "shadows" that Sam speaks of are very real. Being denied a higher education its like a form of slavery or a life sentence to poverty.

Also does it really make sense to hold children responsible for their parents mistakes? Thats like forcing a child serve a prison sentence alongside their parents because they committed a crime.


With Generous Support From...