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American Dreaming

CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman throws a dart at a map of the United States, and wherever it lands is where he goes to get a story. Once there, he picks a person at random from the phone book. The premise is that "everybody has a story." In Clark County, Idaho, where only 900 people reside, he found a young girl who aspires to succeed and probably will.

Meet Amy Mendoza: tenacious, commanding, charming when she wants to be, always on the edge of her seat, always beaming. She is a little extrovert of a third-grader, at least, when it comes to most subjects.

When asked if she has a boyfriend, she responds, "No. Got that?"

And then, she says, "Ask me my favorite color."

So what is her favorite color?

"Blue. And white and red."

She seems like your basic all-American kid, but appearances can be deceiving. In this case, extremely deceiving.

Amy came to this country when she was 2, crossing the Rio Grande in her father's arms. And since she wasn't born here and she doesn't have the proper papers, she is now one of the roughly 800,000 kids living in this country illegally.

All Amy knows is that when she visited her grandparents in Mexico last year, she had a heck of a time getting back. She recalls, "We went through the desert, and it was cold - very, very cold."

Amy's dad, Cezar, is a migrant farmer. He'll tell you, "I've lived in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas. If you don't have a good job, you have to keep moving to find it."

He has a temporary visa to work in the potato fields. But the visa does not cover his daughter and pregnant wife, who speaks almost no English. And yet, English is one of Amy's best subjects. How did she get so good at it? "I don't know, I just listened," she says.

Her teacher Robert Daniels, explains, "They try as hard as they can to be accepted and to be accepted they have to learn English and they have to learn it quick."

Because Amy is being accepted, her parents don't want to migrate anymore. Last summer, they saved all their money just so Amy could stay in school through winter.

But, says her father, "The truth is right now I'm broke. I don't even have enough money to pay the bills."

The Mendozas are living a secret most people wouldn't whisper to the breeze. Cezar knew the risks, but says he wants to tell this story to show America that immigrants can be model citizens. He's hoping people see his little girl, who wants to be a doctor, as living proof.

A footnote: At Mr. Mendoza's request, CBS News did some research on his immigration status. It turns out he was awrded permanent residency status back in 1995, but because he moved so much, the INS couldn't find him to tell him. That means the rest of his family is now eligible for residency. The process will take about a year. Amy's doctorate will take considerably longer.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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