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Across the Border: A Personal Story of Peril

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

President Bush's proposal to use National Guard troops to curb illegal immigration has sparked anger south of the border. Bush has also pledged to beef up border patrols and to erect high-tech fencing to stop the thousands of illegal immigrants, who slip across to the United States each year.

Juan, who asked that we identify him by his first name only, is one of them. At age 11, he arrived with his family in the middle of the night. Juan is now 20 years old, lives in New York, and attends a predominantly white college on Long Island. He told us about the challenges he faces as an undocumented immigrant.

Here's Juan, in his own words.

JUAN: January of '97, that's when my mother, my brother, and I left Mexico and arrived in the United States.

By the time we got to the border, we got separated. My mother was sent with another group, and we had no news about my mother. All we knew was she was trying to get over to the U.S. We had no idea where she was, we had no idea how she was.

Apparently the group she was with attempted to cross about three times. The first two times, they failed and got caught by immigration. So she was sent back. But then the last time my mom was desperate, because she wanted to see us, and she couldn't. And so they tried one more time, and that's when they finally - she finally made it through and after that, that's when we got back together in L.A. And then we spent a couple of months in California with one of my aunts before we decided to move to New York.

It was somewhere between eighth and ninth grade when I realized things were different, because most of my friends who were here legally, they were getting their working papers. They were studying to get their driver's permit. And I couldn't. I tried and I couldn't.

I went to a high school that was very diverse. The whole high school was immigrants. Their main focus was for us to learn English, and I had a class with students with very different backgrounds; so I had to speak English.

And at the beginning, it was difficult. But then I kind of got used to the environment and I - my English, I think, developed really fast. From that point on, it was like I was a totally different person, because I not only felt more comfortable in myself, but I also joined the student government. I ran for office and I was able to speak more in front of crowds, and it was a big change in me.

I'd actually applied to the college I'm currently in, and they accepted me. I was very happy. Then it came down to the fact that I had to find a way to pay for it. When I was in high school, I took some college classes and I met one of the deans from the college. The dean had a partnership with the school I applied to, so through him I was able to get the school to look at my - to send my application to their scholarship board, and that's how I actually was granted a scholarship to go to school. And that's how I've been able to afford college all these years.

I'm going to be a senior next year, so I'm getting ready to finish my bachelors. I'll be returning to school right after that summer to start continuing my masters. But when it comes to teaching, if I haven't solved my legal status by then, I will not be able to obtain my certification. Other than that, I'm just hoping that something will come out of the current immigration talks, something that might benefit either someone in my family or myself.

I mean, I'm willing to wait. Whatever it takes. As long as I know that I'll -by the end of it, I'll be able to stay here.

People are here to stay. They're not going to leave. They have to see the reality. Even - take some of them, they're saying, oh, we have to deport them. We have to take them out. That's not going to be possible, because even if they take them out, there's going to be more people coming, and they're going to be here to stay.

GORDON: You can read more about Juan and other immigrants in the book, Crossing the BLVD, by Judith Sloan and Warren Lehrer.

For more, go to npr.org and visit the NEWS AND NOTES page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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