Undocumented Undergraduate

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In this season of my life, I am a freshmen undergraduate student at a university in California. Like the typical undergraduate, I live in a dorm room and often stay up ungodly hours of the night typing away term papers like the rest of them. At my university, I am just your average nineteen-year-old, freshmen girl fulfilling her educational requirements. But the truth is, nothing about me is average. I am eight hundred miles away from my Arizona home, a place where the racial prejudice burns brown skin worse than the desert sun, especially for an undocumented student like me.

The immigration hardships and racial tensions heightened in Arizona with the passing of the infamous S.B. 1070 the spring of my senior year of high school. After such detrimental news, the only thing that was keeping my family thinking positively was the hope of a once-in-a-lifetime scholarship, which was awarded to me by a school in California. Unfortunately, S.B. 1070 was only the beginning; Arizona had more plans for us. A month after my high school graduation, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents with loaded guns, bullet-proof vests, and steel-toed boots surrounded my house and nearly pounded down my front door, demanding to see my dad and me. I came out to the front yard where the head agent asked my name while pulling out his handcuffs as if he was standing in front of some criminal. No GPA or letter of recommendation could save me then. I fell to my knees in front of the agent and began pleading him to let me stay, telling him I was starting college in a month on a special scholarship. He said to me then, “Fine, I will let you go, but only if you tell me where your dad is.” I stood there shocked and dumbfounded, completely unable to answer the question. Was this what normal students had to sacrifice for their education? I shot a look over at my hunched and mortified mother, who nodded yes to go ahead and tell them. My heart ripped in two as I revealed the precious information. The ICE vans sped off to my dad’s work where he was arrested in front of his boss and coworkers. Within a few minutes they had him back in my driveway for a quick goodbye where he leaned in, handcuffed, to kiss each of us. When he came to me, he looked me in eye and said, “Sigue adelante. Te quiero.” “Keep moving forward. I love you.” Seconds after, the van sped off. I stood in complete disbelief; I had sold my own dad for an education. I realized then that leaving for college now meant leaving my mom alone with two kids and a house she could no longer pay for. My heart was breaking. How could this have been my dream only one month ago?

I began my freshmen year with a criminal record that required me to do immigration check-ins in Arizona with the agent who had separated my family. In those days, to everyone around me, I was a just another college student, but when my dorm room door closed, instead of working on homework, often I was on the phone with my lawyer strategizing ways to keep myself in the country.

I am now a sophomore in college still fighting for my education while fulfilling my immigration requirements in Arizona, knowing that every time I fly back for a check-in I am at a risk of getting deported back to Mexico, a country I haven’t lived in since age two. Unfortunately, my only real legal salvation, the DREAM Act, didn’t pass the Senate in December of 2010, which leaves me uncertain of what the future holds. However, I am still here today and I haven’t forgotten my dad’s last words, “to keep moving forward.” Until my last day in this country (whenever that may be) I will continue to become educated and contribute as much as I can of myself to a school and community that has given me so much. Until my last day, I will learn, and do, and fight, and most importantly, I will be grateful for what I do have. Until my last day in college I will be grateful for the scholarship that saved me.

shared by Kristin Heyer, author of: Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration, published by Georgetown University Press in 2012. http://press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/kinship-across-borders

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