By ROBERT HERNANDEZ
Students and immigration experts shared their experiences with the public during a “What Next for DREAMers?” workshop held at Pima Community College’s East Campus on March 27.
DREAMers are undocumented immigrant youths affected by the proposed federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
“From the beginning of the development of immigration law, we’ve had a terribly schizophrenic policy,” Margo Cowan, the first of the three speakers, told the audience.
“We’ve had a policy that gives values to things like family unification, providing a safe haven for people being prosecuted, welcoming people who work hard and contribute to this society,” she said.
“Those have been our immigration values, but we’ve never had a statutory scheme that has implemented those kinds of values.”
It is estimated that about 1.5 million people are eligible to apply for DREAM. As of March 31, 2013, 610,694 applied for DREAM and 521,815 have been approved. In Arizona, about 27,000 have been approved.
Next to speak was Isabel Garcia, who argued against racial discrimination DREAMers and Latin Americans face in society. Garcia discussed the lack of immigration history taught in public classrooms.
“I went to Pueblo High School, and I learned very little about immigration history,” Garcia said. “It’s vital we know our history, because we are in crisis. We have an ignorance as a society of our immigration history.”
Garcia noted that in April 2003, immigration policy moved from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security.
“All the government see us as are threats to homeland security,” Garcia said.
The last to speak was Jessica Garcia, a PCC student and DREAMer.
Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, Jessica Garcia moved at the age of 13 to the United States because her mother wanted to be with family already in America.
Jessica Garcia struggled with language barriers while she attended middle school, since she only knew Spanish. Her plans were to learn English, finish school and then return to Mexico, but that soon changed.
“By my junior year of high school, I realized I wanted to stay,” Jessica Garcia said. “I realized I did not have any opportunities in Mexico. I would have returned to a country where there are wars, discrimination against women, and danger in our family.”
Jessica Garcia quickly started taking advanced courses and getting involved in extracurricular activities in high school to help her chances of getting into a university. However, because of her undocumented status, she didn’t qualify for financial help.
“I had to turn down a lot of scholarships and internships because of my undocumented status, and I couldn’t apply for any universities because it was just out of my price range,” she said.
Jessica Garcia was able to find scholarships that didn’t require citizenship status or a social security number so she could afford an education.
“I started taking one class, and then another when I could afford it,” Jessica Garcia said. “In 2012, I realized I was in a hole. I was about to turn 21 and I wasn’t finished with community college,” she said.
“I received a call from a friend saying that the president had a birthday gift for me. I go home and do my research and find out about the Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals had just been passed. Once again, my plans changed. I had to stay.”
Proposition 300 prohibits undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition, regardless of length of residency.
Because of that restriction, Jessica Garcia said she was fortunate to find scholarships that didn’t require proof of citizenship status.
“I was lucky enough to talk to the right people during my high school year to tell me what I had to do,” she said.
Consideration for DACA granted undocumented immigrants who came as children the opportunity to get drivers licenses and other legal documentation. It also temporarily stopped undocumented immigrants who are under the age of 16 and have been living in the United States for at least five years from being deported.
Jessica Garcia is currently involved with Scholarships A-Z, a nonprofit organization that helps provide resources and information on scholarships to students with an undocumented citizen status.
For more information on how to get involved, go to scholarshipsaz.org.