THE news item on page 1 captioned “Senate blocks DREAM Act” of the Dec. 24-30, 2010 issue of the Filipino Reporter was bad news to the thousands of young undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally.

Their dreams died over the weekend after the U.S. Senate rejected on Dec. 18 the measure that would have allowed them to pursue a path to legalization and eventually naturalization.

In a 55-41 vote, senators failed to advance the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act).

The editorial of the same issue of the Filipino Reporter captioned “Death of a ‘dream’” posed the following question:

“What happens now to thousands of students who have come out openly to reveal that they do not have legal status, will they be rounded up and summarily deported?”

Accordingly, it is appropriate to relate to our readers the uneasy life of an illegal immigrant in the U.S. which was originally published in the January 1995 issue of Filipinas, a Fil-Am newspaper in Miami, Florida.

The article, “An Illegal Immigrant Story,” by Nonoy (Nick) Vicera, a freelance writer in Miami, is the true story of Lowell Villanueva.

With his permission indicated in his letter dated Nov. 19, 2010, I am publishing important parts of his story.

According to his letter, Mr. Villanueva was a TNT (tago ng tago) in the U.S. from October 1988 to December 1994.

He and his wife are now legal residents of the U.S.

Due to space limitations, I am quoting only important parts of his story.

Here it is:

Illegal immigration is dividing America along ethnic and racial lines.

To some, it is nothing more than economic opportunism by lawbreakers, to others it is a desperate try by seekers of a better life to partake of America’s promise.

Lowell Villanueva knows what it’s like to live deep in the shadow of this controversy.

He was at one time an undocumented alien.

He has broken the law.

But he swears he doesn’t have the heart of a criminal.

Villanueva, 50, came to the U.S. in the autumn of 1985 on a visitor’s visa.

He first set foot in Tampa, Florida, a city known for its fine harbor, the port of call for cargo ships from Latin America.

Villanueva lived a comfortable lifestyle — owning a house, commuting to work by car, sending his kids to exclusive private schools and going on frequent official travels.

The first of his many jobs was as a gasoline attendant.

He worked on the night shift and, although the job was easy, he was taking a psychological beating from it.

He was always scared of being robbed.

For his personal safety, he switched to a job at a plant that cultured aquarium fish.

Villanueva, a quick study, learned the rudiments of fish culture in no time, which made him an indispensable employee.

But the job aroused envy from friends he had just made.

One day an anonymous caller threatened to report the plant owner to immigration authorities for hiring an undocumented worker.

The fearful owner asked Villanueva to leave.

He began the most bitter experience of his life — being homeless.

Unable to pay his monthly rent, he gave up his flat and spent the nights in his car.

He took showers at the beach and relied on public restrooms.

He learned fishing except for him, it was not a pastime, but a means of subsistence.

Living in the open for days, he started to lose his sense of privacy.

Out of bitterness and distrust, he distanced himself from the Filipinos he once knew.

In the days that followed, Villanueva lived like a fugitive, in constant fear of being apprehended by authorities although he was never a felon.

“My only wrongdoing was to be in a country that did not welcome me any longer,” he said.

“That made me decide to try my luck in Miami.”

To make his story short, back in Cebu, Villanueva’s eldest child, Lowella, 24, whose college education he supported out of earnings from the many odd jobs he held in the U.S., finished nursing.

She then passed the qualifying test for foreign nurses wishing to work in the U.S.

She was able to join him in Miami on Dec. 23, 1993.

On her first attempt, Lowella passed the Florida license exams the following February and is now working as a registered nurse at Pan-American Hospital in downtown Miami.

One of the first things the proud Villanueva did when Lowell got a job was to get a place that he could turn into a home with his daughter.

He drives her to work every chance he gets.

“I want to make up for my absence when I left her at a young age,” he said.

He fumbles with strange feelings every time he sees his daughter off to work, watching her being accepted by the system that has completely shunned him for years.

Villanueva has lived and survived here for nine years without papers.

But beating the immigration system has a price.

Everyday he feels imprisoned despite the physical freedom he enjoys.

For nine long years, Villanueva has had the joy of seeing his family.

“Yes, I enjoy well-being here in the U.S., yet I am not able to share it with my family back home. I cannot go home, since I would not be able to come back to America.”

The nights he cried were countless, the loneliness he felt, infinite, especially on the many wedding anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, Christmases, and New Years he has spent away from home.

I just received Villanueva’s December 2010 letter from Cebu.

Finally, he has joined his family in Cebu for the Christmas vacation.

Will this be the lives of those students who openly campaigned for the passage of the DREAM Act?

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