By Maria Leon
TUCSON, Arizona – Undocumented students in southern Arizona are hoping their personal stories will raise the awareness of and convince politicians of the need to approve the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to legal residence for young people who enroll in college or join the military.
Personal stories are, the students say, the best way to get lawmakers to understand the problem of thousands of undocumented people who are living with the fear of being deported from the country at any time.
“The DREAM Act will open doors so that thousands of young people can continue their studies and begin a new life serving the only country they have known,” Pima Community College student Jose Carlos Giron told Efe.
Giron, 19, was one of the dozen or so young “dreamers” who on Tuesday showed up at the local office of Republican Sen. John McCain to ask him for his support in approving the DREAM Act.
If the bill is approved, it would open the way for obtaining legal residence for thousands of undocumented students who arrived in this country before turning 16.
“I came to the United States when I was only 10. I’ve lived in Tucson for half my life,” said Giron, a Mexican immigrant who is a nursing student.
He added that his dream is to finish his studies, work in nursing, help people, get married and have a family of his own in the United States.
Arizona voters in 2006 approved a state law obligating undocumented students at state universities and community colleges to pay tuition at the same high rates as foreign nationals.
That means that students like Angela Acosta, 22, would have to pay around $15,000 per semester to be able to finish their degrees.
“The United States is my country, although I was born in Mexico. I knew what had to be done. I don’t think we’re hurting anyone by asking for an opportunity for ourselves,” the mother of three told Efe.
She said many who criticize undocumented immigrants don’t know how the system works since it’s practically impossible to get legal residence if your parents or spouse are not U.S. citizens.
Acosta, who came to the United States when she was 5, said that among young undocumented students there currently exists a strong feeling of frustration, given that without the DREAM Act the chances for finishing their degrees will be be minimal once the Republican Party gains control of the House of Representatives starting in January.
“I don’t understand why I can’t be the same as the rest of the other students,” said 14-year-old Jose Sanchez.
Sanchez came to the United States when he was 4, after his parents divorced in his native Sonora, Mexico – bordering Arizona – and he experienced firsthand the deportation of one of his relatives.
Another example is the case of Peruvian-born student Steve Li, who is once again enjoying the company of his parents and friends after being detained for about two months.
“They were very difficult times for me. I was locked up along with 64 other people in a single cell, and they only let us out for an hour (per day) to walk in the (prison) yard,” Li told Efe, adding that he was released last Friday after a long struggle and – on several occasions – had faced the possibility of being deported.
Li, born in Peru to Chinese immigrant parents, was 11 when the family moved to the United States.
The nursing student, who lives in San Francisco, California, was detained on Sept. 15 in his own home by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents along with his parents for ignoring a deportation order issued in 2004.
“For me it was very traumatic. I didn’t know the family’s immigration status. My parents hadn’t wanted to tell me anything to protect me,” said Li in a telephone interview.
He added that during the entire time he was detained he lived in fear of being deported to Peru.
“It was very sad to know that my parents were also locked up and that I couldn’t have any communication with then,” said the young man, who speaks perfect Spanish.
Li was released thanks to an intense campaign led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who presented a bill to delay Li’s deportation to Peru, a country where the young man does not have a single relative or friend.
“I still run the risk of being deported,” Li said. EFE