[Marxism] Immigration nightmare

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 26 10:00:39 MDT 2006

NY Times, April 26, 2006
Student's Prize Is a Trip Into Immigration Limbo

A small, troubled high school in East Harlem seemed an unlikely place to 
find students for a nationwide robot-building contest, but when a 
neighborhood after-school program started a team last winter, 19 students 
signed up. One was Amadou Ly, a senior who had been fending for himself 
since he was 14.

The project had only one computer and no real work space. Engineering 
advice came from an elevator mechanic and a machinist's son without a 
college degree. But in an upset that astonished its sponsors, the rookie 
team from East Harlem won the regional competition last month, beating 
rivals from elite schools like Stuyvesant in Manhattan and the Bronx High 
School of Science for a chance to compete in the national robotics finals 
in Atlanta that begins tomorrow.

Yet for Amadou, who helps operate the robot the team built, success has 
come at a price. As the group prepared for the flight to Atlanta today, he 
was forced to reveal his secret: He is an illegal immigrant from Senegal, 
with no ID to allow him to board a plane. Left here long ago by his mother, 
he has no way to attend the college that has accepted him, and only a slim 
chance to win his two-year court battle against deportation.

In the end, his fate could hinge on immigration legislation now being 
debated in Congress. Several Senate bills include a pathway for successful 
high school graduates to earn legal status. But a measure passed by the 
House of Representatives would make his presence in the United States a 
felony, and both House and Senate bills would curtail the judicial review 
that allows exceptions to deportation.

Meanwhile, the team's sponsors scrambled to put him on a train yesterday 
afternoon for a separate 18-hour journey to join his teammates from Central 
Park East High School at the Georgia Dome. There, more than 8,500 high 
school students will participate in the competition, called FIRST (For 
Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) by its sponsor, a 
nonprofit organization that aims to make applied sciences as exciting to 
children as sports.

"I didn't want other people to know," said Amadou, 18, referring to his 
illegal status. "They're all U.S. citizens but me."

Most team members learned of his problem only yesterday at a meeting with 
Kristian Breton, 27, the staff member at the East Harlem Tutorial program 
who started the team, inspired by his own experience in the competition 
when he was a high school student in rural Mountain Home, Ark.

Alan Hodge, 18, echoed the general dismay. "We can't really celebrate all 
the way because it's not going to feel whole as a team without Amadou," he 

Amadou's teammates have struggled with obstacles of their own. When Mr. 
Breton called a meeting of parents to collect permission slips last week, 
only five showed up. One boy's mother had a terminal illness, Mr. Breton 
learned. Another mother lived in the Dominican Republic, leaving an older 
sibling to manage the household. One of the six girls on the team said her 
divorced parents disagreed about letting her go, and her mother, who was 
willing to approve the trip, lacked the $4 subway fare to get to the meeting.

But Amadou's case stands out. As he tells it, with corroboration from 
immigration records and other documents, he was 13 and spoke no English 
when his mother brought him to New York from Dakar on Sept. 10, 2001. He 
was 14 when she went back, leaving him behind in the hope that he could 
continue his American education.

By then, he had finished ninth grade at Norman Thomas High School in a 
program for students learning English as a second language. But his mother 
left instruction for him to take a Greyhound bus to Indianapolis, where a 
Senegalese woman friend had agreed to take him in and send him to North 
Central High School there.

"It was the same thing when I was in Africa," he said, describing a 
childhood spent shuttling between his grandmother and the household of his 
father, a retired police officer with 12 children and three wives.

The woman in Indiana, who had four children of her own, changed her mind 
about keeping him after his sophomore year, and he returned by bus to New 
York in the summer of 2004. "I had to find a way to help myself for food 
and clothes, and to buy some of my school supplies," he said, recalling 
days handing out fliers for a clothing store on a Manhattan street corner. 
"I ended up living with another friend — I'm under age and I can't live alone."

Taking shelter with a taxi driver, a friend of the family who could sign 
his report cards, Amadou enrolled in 11th grade at Central Park East. Under 
longstanding Supreme Court decisions, children have a right to a public 
education regardless of their immigration status, and in New York, as in 
many other cities, a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to legal status has 
prevailed for years.

But after the 9/11 attacks, practices around the country changed. On a 
rainy highway in Pennsylvania on Nov. 7, 2004, Amadou met a very different 
attitude when he had the bad luck to be a passenger in a car rear-ended by 
a truck. The state trooper who responded questioned his passport and school 
ID, and summoned federal immigration officers, who began deportation 

There is no right to a court-appointed lawyer in immigration court, and 
though Amadou's friends hired one for him at first, records show that the 
lawyer soon withdrew. "We really couldn't afford to pay," Amadou explained.

By the time the case was finally sent to a special juvenile docket in 
federal court after several adjournments, Amadou had already turned 18, 
closing off some legal options that can lead to a green card for juveniles, 
said Amy Meselson, a Legal Aid lawyer who took on the case last week.

At this point, she said, his best chance is probably a long shot: a measure 
included in an amendment to many Senate immigration bills, known as the 
Dream Act, which offers a path to citizenship to young people of good 
character who have lived in the United States for five years, been accepted 
to college, or earned a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Opponents say the measure will encourage illegal immigrants, and subsidize 
their education at the expense of American children and their taxpaying 

But mentors for Amadou's team, which calls itself "East Harlem Tech," seem 
to have no ear for such arguments.

"He's been a hard-working and diligent student with mathematical ability 
and a scientific mind," said Rhonda Creed-Harry, a math teacher at Central 
Park East. But though he has been accepted at the New York City College of 
Technology in Brooklyn, he said he could not attend because he does not 
qualify for financial aid.

Ramon Padilla, a team mentor who stopped a year short of a college degree 
himself and now works in the audio-visual department at Columbia 
University, called the news that Amadou faced deportation "overwhelming."

"I'm telling you, he's a great kid, a very talented kid," he said, adding 
that Amadou played an important role in building the robot, with help from 
Frank Sierra, a buddy of Mr. Padilla who repairs elevators. Starting from a 
standard set of parts, each team had six weeks to design a robot that could 
move down a center line and throw balls into a goal. In the last round of 
the competition, Amadou helped his team form a winning alliance with teams 
from Morris High School in the Bronx and Staten Island Tech, which both 
advanced to the finals as well.

Mr. Breton, who made last-minute trips to the Bronx to gather parental 
permissions, said he was determined not to leave Amadou behind. "I started 
with 19 people, and I want to take 19 people to Atlanta," he told the 
student. "I want to make sure that everybody has the full opportunity, 
because I feel you've earned it."

Amadou returned the compliment. "Because of him, it happened," he said.

Yet on the train to Atlanta, accompanied by another staff member, Amadou 
was still worried. Bloomberg L.P., which is underwriting the full cost of 
the team's trip to Atlanta, plans to display its robot at the company's 
headquarters in New York and invite the team up to celebrate their 
achievement. He said he was afraid that for lack of the right ID he might 
be turned away from the building.

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