Every day on his way to school, Christian passes a group of men lined up for work on the street. Most of them are undocumented Mexican immigrants -- just like him -- without any pathway to legal citizenship. Christian is 15 years-old and grew up in New York City. For teens like him it can be hard to keep going to classes, knowing that without permanent resident status, the jobs and opportunities they seek will be closed to them. Some of the immigration reform legislation currently being debated in Congress, known as The Dream Act, contains provisions for kids like Christian--who have spent the majority of their lives in the US-- to gain their citizenship through completion of college or military service. And even with all the grim risks of war, Christian's best hope might be the Army.
15-year-old Christian is undocumented. He worked in a clothing factory last summer, and ever since then he's been searching for a way to get legal papers and a future with more options. For awhile, he thought joining the military might be the key to citizenship.
REPORTER: All right, this is my neighborhood, Port Richmond in Staten Island, NY.
Every morning when I take the bus to school, I see men lining up on Port Richmond Avenue. Theyâ€™re waiting for jobs in construction, roofing, or it's whatever available.
Right now there're about 20 guys out here, they don't look so happy and their clothes doesn't look so clean at all.
Sometimes my step dad is one of them. I worked with my step dad on a few jobs and I know I don't want to spend my whole life breaking concrete for $100/day. But when I look at the men on Port Richmond Avenue, I see myself in the future, standing there, waiting. And it makes me feel depressed.
Next year, I start high school and someday I want to become an engineer or maybe an archaeologist. I want to learn about my ancestors, the Aztec people and find some ruins that no one has ever found.
KIDS: There's a Mexican runaway from the border. I heard two illegal Mexicans got married at the top of the fence.
REPORTER: My friends are all from different backgrounds and we make jokes about each other every day.
KIDS: Christian is a true Mexican, why you might ask? Because his pants are full of paint, which is what Mexicans always come to work in.
REPORTER: Sometimes they even make fake green cards out of construction paper and draw my picture on them. And yeah that's funny, but I wish they were real.
I don't have legal papers. When I was four, my mom carried me across the border. All I remember is helicopters, dogs barking, and I felt like I couldn't breathe because I had dirt in my nose.
When we got to Staten Island. I learned how to read and write in English, and forgot a lot of my Spanish. I played with my Hot Wheelz in the driveway, and watched Pokemon on TV. I even dressed up as a U.S. soldier three Halloweens in a row. But the difference between me and most of my friends is, in four years from now, they will be getting ready to go to college. They could become firemen, astronauts, mechanics - anything they want. But when I turn 18, I will either have to go back to Mexico and start all over, or hide for the rest of my life, living "de abajo de la raya" - under the line, underground.
COMMERCIAL: In Spanish.
REPORTER: Last summer, I kept on seeing these commercials "Yo Soy El Army" on TV.
COMMERCIAL: In Spanish.
REPORTER: And I started thinking - maybe I could join the military.
COMMERCIAL: In Spanish
REPORTER: My cousin Mikey was thinking that too. Mikey is four years older than me, but we grew up together, seeing the same war movies and playing the same video games. We saw on the news that a lot of immigrants were getting their citizenship and college money by joining the military. He wanted to be a marine.
MIKEY: Even if it you know looks scary and everything, its looks really dangerous. I want to do it. I definitely want to go to go to college, and maybe I can be someone in this country. I don't know.
REPORTER: It's not a big surprise that we all had the same idea. Mikey and I saw this news special on the Hispanic TV channel. It was about how Latino kids are being recruited to join the military.
NEWS SPECIAL: Military recruiters automatically assume that just because a student is Latino they will not be able to get into college without assistance. Kill!
REPORTER: And a lot of them are dying.
NEWS SPECIAL: Jimmy Jay Arojave, 30. Marine Staff Sergeant. Marvin A. Camposiyes.
REPORTER: It's true--- I see recruiters all over my neighborhood. They hang out at the park, near my house, where a lot of Latinos play soccer.
When I put it all these things together it makes me angry. It makes a lot of people angry and sad.
CARLOS: As you can see back here, I have a sign says my son: killed in action in Iraq.
REPORTER: Carlos Arredondo lost his son Alex.
CARLOS: I got his uniform, his medals.
REPORTER: Now he goes around the country in a truck with a casket on top, trying to make young people like me think twice about joining the military.
CARLOS: My son, couple of days before he was killed all full with life, look at his face.
REPORTER: Carlos said his whole world came apart when the marines showed up at his door.
CARLOS: I stop breathing for a moment, I feel my heart start pumping, pumping real fast. I just trying to understand. I'm trying to figure out if what I'm hear in English is right. And so my whole world start turning down in a lot of pain.
REPORTER: Carlos did make me think twice. But then I started explaining to him that I felt like the military was my only chance to do anything.
So since I'm they say I'm an alien and stuff like that I can't get an education for college, which I want.
REPORTER: I asked him, what would he do in my situation?
CARLOS: You want to join the military because you want to get an education, thereâ€™s no other way for you to do it. Now, I will suggest to you to make sure that you take the time to make the decisions.
REPORTER: I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. And sometimes it seems like the worst idea in the world. But the idea of working as a day laborer, like my step dad, for the rest of my life, makes me feel like I have a thousand bricks on my shoulders already. But I think that if I could really get my citizenship and go to college, I would be the first one at the recruiter's office. I would cross the ocean to a hot, sandy country where car bombs exploding all over, and sleep in a tent, eat nasty food, and fight for this country if it meant I could just stay here and not get deported back to a place I don't even remember.
But guess what? I don't even have that option!
MARGARET: When an undocumented immigrant goes to a recruiter, the recruiter normally turns the person away.
REPORTER: Son of a gun!
MARGARET: Many people just have no way to legally be in the United States.
REPORTER: Margaret Stock is an immigration lawyer and a Lieutenant Colonel in the army reserves. She says there's a lot of confusion out there because last year the government passed a law that could make it possible for undocumented people to join the military.
MARGARET: In January of 2006, Congress gave the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Navy authority to allow anybody into the military - documented or undocumented - if they decide that they need to do that.
REPORTER: But she said none of those guys have done it. So basicallyâ€”no army for me. When my cousin Mikey found out that he couldn't join the military, he got angry and depressed.
MIKEY: When they say no, I am like then you know I just walk away and sat just like pissed off because you know I don't know what to do and it's not like I have two choices.
REPORTER: Soon after that, Mikey tried to get a job as a plumber, but he couldn't because he was undocumented. Then, he just decided to drop out of high school.
Most of the people at my church come from Mexico. Our priest, Father Michael, knows the stuff we go through in this country.
FATHER MICHAEL: I see in this neighborhood, people who in sophomore, junior year of high school, because they don't have citizenship or papers think well there's no sense studying or working or doing anything. It gives a person a feeling of what's the use. That's a very sad thing to do to youth to frustrate all that energy and talent.
REPORTER: There's no way right now for me to get my legal papers. Even though I was only four years old, the fact that I crossed the border illegally means I can't ever marry someone for my papers, I can't get sponsored by my family. I'm not eligible for a special work visa. I'm completely locked out unless the military lets me in, or congress passes a new law.
There is one they've been debating for a long time. It would make it possible for kids in my situation to become citizens if they finish two years of college or military service.
It's called the dream act.
MOM: In Spanish
REPORTER: My mom says if we don't fix our papers, all I'm gonna have is dreams. My little brother was born here.
REPORTER: So how's it feel to be an American citizen?
REPORTER: Okay, how does it feel to know that you're going to have a better future than I am?
BROTHER: Gyay goo
REPORTER: How does it feel to be a furry monkey?
REPORTER: In a cabinet in my mom's room, she keeps things from when my little brother and I were little. There's baby clothes and the blanket that I wore on my shoulders when I was crossing the border. I pulled out some pictures from when my little brother was born.
He's so funny. In every picture he's laughing.
REPORTER: In one picture, me, my cousin Mikey and my little brother are all together.
(in momâ€™s room): Me and Mikey were born in Mexico. And Adamy was born here with the rest of my little cousins. And thatâ€™s it - theyâ€™re going to have a better life than me and Mikey is gonna have.
Happy for them. I guess, yeah. I donâ€™t know.
FOR WNYC, Iâ€™M ROOKIE REPORTER CHRISTIAN.
Christian chose not to disclose his last name for fear he might draw the attention of immigration authorities.