PORT ARTHUR, Texas – A group of undocumented students in southeastern Texas’ Jefferson County is working tirelessly so that other Hispanics like them can get a better education and fight to regularize their immigration status.
For the past two years, Education Initiative Association has been making a difference in the region through its leadership programs and educational workshops discussing scholarships and resources so that more young people can go to college.
Members of EIA have participated in hunger strikes and protest marches supporting the approval of the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow the legalization of undocumented students.
EIA seeks to attract the attention of organizations and politicians so that they will defend the cause of thousands of students who are in limbo, according to 22-year-old co-founder Carolina Ramirez.
“One of the challenges has been to maintain a better organization because besides the duties we have as students, we’re undocumented people and we have to work in an irregular way. Apart from that, we’re sons and daughters and are part of a family, of a community,” Ramirez said in an interview with Efe.
“We need the community to act, and for its support not to be only verbal but also official. In the end, what are these kids going to do (after) graduating and with a diploma but without being able to use it,” she added.
Ramirez, who was only a year old when her parents brought her to the United States, complained about the lack of commitment and official support from the chancellor of state-supported Lamar University in Beaumont as well as the mayors of that city and neighboring Port Arthur.
Juan Rodriguez, 19, is the current vice president of student government at Lamar and the only reason why he doesn’t become president is because of his immigration situation.
“They insist at the university that I must regularize my status and that I wait in line and do it, but I don’t know where to begin. My goal is to become a journalist someday and work in some of the big Hispanic television networks,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, who is part of the EIA executive committee, also arrived in the United States at the age of 1 and the rest of his siblings were born north of the border.
For Jesus Abrego, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, the biggest challenge facing students and Hispanics in general is the lack of information.
“In Jefferson County we’re new immigrants. We’ve only had a few years in large numbers in this part of the country. And the culture that’s governing us doesn’t know our sociocultural reality and doesn’t know how to fight against it,” Abrego said.
According to Census figures, almost 20 percent of Jefferson County’s population of 252,273 is Hispanic
“It’s not easy to be an immigrant and also undocumented in southeastern Texas,” he said.
Texas is one of 10 states to allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition, as long as they fulfill certain requirements, including having graduated from a local high school and making a commitment to legalize their immigration situation as soon as possible.
Of the almost 1.4 million students in Texas who paid for school as state residents in 2012, about 16,500 signed documents in which they made a commitment to seek permanent residence, according to the Texas Board of Regents. EFE