Ademir and Adriana 

The Dreamers

The Dreamers

All that stands between three bright young Nashvillians and the kind of future that's open to their friends and classmates — graduation, college and someday, gainful employment in the country they call home — is nine digits. Of course, it's a little more complicated than that. As undocumented immigrants, Ademir, Adriana (not their real names) and friend Nicole (not pictured), are caught in a kind of limbo: Even though they've all lived in Nashville for most of their lives, the fact that none of them has a Social Security number means their educational path has an as-yet-insurmountable barricade built into it.

"Just because I don't have this little number, that's why I lost my health insurance, that's why I lost everything," says Ademir, a fast-talking, self-described "artsy" high school senior. "So when people say 'college,' it's like a stab in the heart."Ademir is one of the many undocumented young Nashvillians who rallied in support of the DREAM Act, the bipartisan federal bill that would have opened a conditional path to citizenship for kids like him — kids who never chose to come to the U.S., but who now find themselves staring down the consequences of their immigration status. (The bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate last December.)

Ademir was 3 when he and his mother crossed over from Mexico to reunite with his father and find a better life; Adriana was 5 when she came here; Nicole was 10 months old. "I don't remember much of it," says Adriana, an energetic, literature-loving high school junior, when she thinks back on crossing the border with her mother. "No one told me if it was bad or not, just that we'd have a better future." Since she was only an infant, Nicole, a poetry-writing, soccer-playing sixth-grader who volunteers at her local hospital, has no memory at all of coming to America. But she's sure of one thing: "I'm very glad that I'm here," she says.

Staying here, and succeeding here, though, will be a challenge. The New York Times reported recently that more than 300,000 immigrants were deported last year, and without Social Security numbers, federal student aid and other opportunities remained closed to Nicole and others like her. Still, all three remain upbeat, and they refuse to accept the notion that those nine digits make them somehow different from their fellow Nashvillians. As Nicole puts it, "We're all one big family." As for the dream she shares with Ademir, Adriana and countless other young people around Nashville and the U.S. who hope to better themselves and give back to the country that has given them so much: "We're not going to give up," she says firmly. "We're going to keep trying."

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