Each year, more than 60,000 young people graduate from high school in the U.S. only to face little prospects for the future. That's because they're undocumented immigrants, legally unable to work or go to college.
That could change next week when the Senate plans to vote on the so-called "DREAM Act."
Chasing an Elusive Dream
Andrea Gonzales and her sister and brother have all graduated from high school with honors. But because of their undocumented status, they're unable to go to college or obtain legal employment.
"I have a lot of potential and colleges do see that," Andrea Gonzalez said. "They see 'Wow, you have a great GPA, a lot of activities, a lot of volunteer service. But because of your situation, this very particular immigration situation, sorry, we can't accept you.'"
"All I really want to do is wake up in the morning and go to work and come back in the afternoon and know that I've done something," Gonzales' brother, Daniel, said.
Their father, Juan Gonzales, brought his family to the U.S. from Venezuela when his children were in grade school. He came as a religious worker. But red tape and a complicated immigration system have kept him from obtaining citizenship for his family.
The DREAM Act would help the Gonzales kids and others like them by allowing qualified undocumented immigrant students to become legal permanent residents. This would result in certain education benefits like in-state college tuition rates.
Only students who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, graduated from high school, or earned a GED would qualify.
The benefit: many would be able to attend college, and all would be able to work legally.
Hispanic leaders like Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, say the DREAM Act is critical for this next generation.
"These are children who were raised in America, who are born in another country, whose parents came here, out of the control of that child. They can't pursue higher education," Rev. Rodriguez explained.
A Dream or a Nightmare?
However, not everyone believes helping such students is a good idea.
Opponents of the measure say it's bad policy to help those who violate the law, that the DREAM Act would encourage even more illegal immigration.
But for those students caught in the middle, the measure would literally be a dream come true.
"I thought that was the American dream to go to college and that was my biggest desire," Andrea Gonzales said.
Meanwhile, Senate leaders say they'll call a vote on measure next week. Lawmakers are calling the legislation a down payment on broad immigration reform. But many believe it will be tough to find enough support in this lame-duck session.