Names and Faces

There are thousands of illegal-immigrant stories in the city. This is one of them.

His full name was read when he graduated from West High School last Thursday -- seventh in his class, down from fifth last fall. Pablo had been taking a heavy load, including four college-level courses, but his overall record was still good enough to earn him the Center for International Studies Department Award, as well as a place in the National Honor Society. And late last month, he learned that he'd also been awarded a rare full scholarship that will pay his way at a prestigious private school in Colorado -- the next step toward his American dream.

Pablo is the first child in his extended family to go to college. His grandmother came from Mexico to watch him graduate. Pablo hadn't seen her in years. He can't leave the country -- not to visit relatives, not to travel to Europe on school trips -- for fear that he won't be able to get back in. The West ceremony was at the Colorado Convention Center, where orange flowers lined the stage. After the school board and faculty entered, the graduating students marched to the stage. Pablo and his closest friends, all honor students, wore white gowns. The salutatorian gave half of her speech in English and half in Spanish. Two of the other students' speeches were in English, two in Spanish. "Being mostly Latinos, being here shows our strong will and the greatness of each one of us," said one. "We have all faced different challenges. Among them, the most difficult is to recognize what has been done for us, the risks that our families have faced so that we could have a better life in this country that is not our own."

City councilwoman Judy Montero helped hand out the diplomas. "It was heart-wrenching to see them get those pieces of paper," she says. "To think about their stories, how much they'd struggled. To see the promise in all of the kids."

Pablo sees the promise -- and the problem that these kids have inherited. His was solved with a scholarship, but he knows he was lucky. "You have the students -- and they're not going to go away -- and they've created their own lifestyle here," he says. "They're pretty much basically American. They've gone through the whole school system and done all that's required of them. In school, we're encouraged to go on with our education, and our teachers talk to us about how it's important to go to college. But then when we try, we find all these roadblocks in our way because we're illegal. Your options start winding down. Most of the undocumented kids end up working jobs like the jobs my parents are doing. And that's an education gone to waste."

Before he continues his own education, Pablo wants to earn some money this summer. "I'm going to look for a job, but I don't know how hard it's going to be because of that guy who shot the cop," he says. "My dad says there's going to be a crackdown on illegals now."

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