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September 1, 2006

Has America Become Immigrant Nation?

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"I was on my way to becoming a doctor. Now, everything's up in the air."


Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a doctor. My family is from Bangladesh originally, but I grew up in Saudi Arabia in a community of immigrant doctors and engineers. School was my life. I went to class, came home, and did my homework. When my oldest brother got accepted to a college in the United States, everyone assumed I would be next--until he got sick. My brother was hospitalized for depression after falling out of a third floor window at his university. When my parents got the call, my mother told me to pack a bag--we were going to New York City to take care of him. My father stayed behind. I remember worrying: How could I miss several weeks of classes before my final exams? It wasn't until we got to America that I realized we weren't going back. The way my parents explained it, my brother would never get the same quality medical treatment outside of the U.S. He could lose his mind forever, but in New York, he had access to the world's best doctors. So we stayed. After my brother got sick, I wanted to be a doctor more than ever. I went to high school in Queens and graduated with honors, ranking sixth in my class of 577. I edited the high-school yearbook and volunteered as a math tutor. I won a statewide award from the attorney general. I could have won a scholarship to a prestigious college of my choice, but I wasn't able to apply because I didn't have any papers. Thankfully, I still got a scholarship from City University of New York Honors College--under New York state law, it admits resident undocumented students who show good high-school records. Without that, it would have been hard to go to college at all. I chose biochemistry as my major. I was in the premed program, with a GPA of over 3.5. Then I started to apply for internships at hospitals, a helpful resume addition when applying to medical schools. Recently, I received all rejection letters. Because I'm not legal, the hospitals wouldn't even look at my applications. I thought at least one program would have made an exception, given my grades. Five years ago, before 9/11, this would never have happened-- no one thought about immigrants as posing a safety threat then. So I'm beginning to accept that my career plans have to change. When I tell friends I'm not going to med school anymore, they're shocked. But I try not to think about it too much, because I have to face reality. I've thought about going home, but I don't know anybody in Bangladesh anymore, and the school system is completely different. I would have to start all over. And in Saudi Arabia, as a woman, it would be nearly impossible to get a job. So for now, I'm just trying to graduate from college. I don't even know if I'll be able to get a job afterward; I can't plan anything. I've come so far toward achieving my goal. But without papers--or a change in the system--I don't have a future.

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