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Fighting for 'the American dream'

On opposite sides of the street in Virginia, were longtime residents and immigrants fighting for their families and their dreams.

Dec. 25, 2006 |

Standing across the street, but not worlds away (Leonor Ayala, Field Producer)

My innate curiosity and personal love of traveling always led me to the inevitable question; what does "home" mean? Immigration and more simply why any group of people settle any where in the world, has always intrigued me. Reporting on this story, it seemed to me that most all of the immigrants I encountered were drawn to United States for one reason: economic opportunity not available in their native lands. The lure of the American Dream is irresistible.  Friends and family go back home and tell stories about how much money you can make back in the United States, if you are willing to work hard and are driven. Most of the immigrant women and men I encountered really held on to the belief of the American Dream; a concept pretty unique to the United States.  For in my travels, I found that there really is no other place where you can literally go from rags to at least near riches.

Of course, you can not compare any one of the world's human atrocities to another.  But if you look at the current state of world affairs the answer to why there is such mass immigration almost seems clear. 

Currently, there is the situation in Sudan; pushing people out of their homes to seek refuge from the violence, chaos and subsequent economic devastation natives there are facing.  There is the wave of violence in Iraq, causing thousands upon thousands of Iraqis to flee their home. 

The government of Spain is experiencing an unprecedented number of African migrants coming upon their shores leaving officials there facing the ever pressing question; how to handle the influx of migrants?  Over the last decade, France is also dealing with the growing pains of a burgeoning Arab community.  We witnessed the display of mass civil unrest in France last year by large pockets of mostly Arab youths expressing their discontent, over what they viewed as marginalization from mainstream French society. 

What happens when these new groups of immigrants do not assimilate? And more importantly, do not benefit from the economic opportunity they seek? It seemed my reporting only led to more questions. 

. The group gathered at 6 a.m., much, much earlier than I would have liked to be out and about on a seven degree winter morning.  As the morning unfolded, I could see this one community — members of the Minutemen — who had settled in Herndon, Virginia to provide a better, secure life for their families. They are fighting to keep that alive.  The men gathered across the street— mostly undocumented immigrants —at the 7-11 in many ways represented a threat to that dream.

And there across the street those very same groups of men were trying to grasp at least a small part of that American Dream. They hoped to send money back to their families living in destitute situations back home in Mexico, El Salvador or Guatemala.  That day we were outside for about an hour — the Minutemen taking photos and jotting down license plates in efforts to drive the day laborers and their employers out.  On the other side, the day laborers felt pangs of racism and xenophobia. But clearly in their eyes they told me they did not understand why this group of people seemed to hate them so much. 

It was clear to me then, that neither side had bothered to take the time to really sit down and talk to each other. For one there is the language barrier and secondly, getting to know someone — even on the surface — might mean that you may actually grow to care about one another's concerns. 

Bottomline? The issues revolving around immigration are very complex and it seems no one will ever really have a clear answer.  Lastly, as long as there is major political and social upheaval around the world, immigration will continue. And for those of us who have never really experienced this, it will always be difficult for us to walk in their shoes.

NBC News spent eight months reporting on the myths and truths about illegal immigration in this pristine stretch between Aspen and Vail, a historically white population that has seen an influx of thousands of Hispanics, mostly from Mexico. The hour-long documentary follows a booming economy attracting illegal workers willing to do unskilled labor, questioning what happens to American culture and America's laws when hundreds of thousands of people enter the country illegally.