It’s a contradiction that perhaps only a public servant could face. President Barack Obama, a person in favor of granting legal status to undocumented college students, must, as president, enforce a law that sends students back to countries many of them don’t remember.
“…We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here and earn an education…,” Obama said Thursday during a speech at the American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C.
But it’s a contradiction that many, including ASU President Michael Crow, hope Obama never has to face again.
Nine years after it was first introduced in Congress, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act remains a DREAM.
In its most recent form, as Senate Bill 729, the Act would give undocumented students a chance to obtain legal status and a bachelor’s degree.
Like the president, we at The State Press would like to voice our support for the Act, which will hopefully save some of our fellow students from deportation.
But this is the last time we wish to call upon the president and our country’s lawmakers to pass this Act. Whether it be part of the comprehensive immigration legislation or a bill on its own, it’s time to make the DREAM a reality.
“We must make progress in addressing this matter in 2010,” Crow and other University presidents wrote in a letter sent to four U.S. senators in May.
With half the year already gone, Crow and the others seem a bit too hopeful. But their urgency is not misplaced. Even though Washington has a tendency of being slow, our lawmakers must understand that for students living in this country illegally, time is of the essence.
Obama already broke his promise to make immigration a top priority during his first year in office.
“I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama told the League of United Latin American Citizens in 2008. “And I will make it a top priority in my first year as president…”
If it weren’t for Arizona’s controversial immigration law, we might still be waiting for the president to come forth and step up his efforts to secure our borders and fix America’s “broken” immigration system.
But let the past be the past. Obama has kicked off his reform campaign, and we are on board.
In order to complete this difficult task, we need a bipartisan effort from our lawmakers in Washington. Let us repeat, Mr. President. We need a bipartisan effort from our lawmakers. As you pointed out, it’s a “political and mathematical reality” that reform is impossible without Republican votes. Therefore, we expect humility from the Republicans as well as your own party, Mr. President.
But demeaning statements like, “I’m ready to move forward; the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward; and…the majority of Americans are ready to move forward” just won’t fly against Senate GOP members who have fingers on a filibuster trigger.
Don’t forget that Republican-controlled Arizona started this year’s immigration debate. That in mind, it’s difficult to argue that Republicans aren’t ready to move forward.
We are all ready to move forward, Mr. President. Conflicting ideals are what keep us from progress.
Coming off a Fourth of July weekend, let us look to our nation’s beginning as a reminder that progress can be made despite our differing views. In 1787, men from various states representing different people spent just one summer in Philadelphia, not drafting a single law, but drafting a paper that outlined the very framework of our entire government. There were arguments. There was frustration. But they accomplished the task.
End political bickering. Unite. Work together. Pass the DREAM.
Coming one day after President Barack Obama called on Congress to reform the country’s “broken” immigration system, immigrants from 55 different countries gathered inside a gymnasium at South Mountain Community College Friday.
One hundred and ninety new citizens waved miniature American flags, celebrating their new status during the 22nd Annual Fiesta of Independence naturalization ceremony.
Araceli Mena, a business management senior, took part in the ceremony. A resident of Mexico City for most of her life, she moved to the U.S. when she was 19.
Mena, 24, had to wait five years to become a U.S. citizen after arriving.
Her father is also a citizen, but her sisters have been waiting in Mexico for almost seven years to receive resident visas.
The visa process is long and difficult, Mena said, and that might be a factor in illegal immigration.
“I think [people immigrate illegally] because it’s so hard to actually do it the right way if you don’t have any family members that can actually apply for you and get you here,” she said.
Mena waited two years to receive her green card, a process that cost about $2,000, she said.
Those who are attempting to legally become citizens should have first priority, she said.
“It’s ridiculous…how long you have to wait to just get a green card when you’re doing everything right,” Mena said.
She said she supports the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which is supported by ASU President Michael Crow.
The act, recently in the form of Senate Bill 729, would allow undocumented students to stay in the U.S. to pursue a college education if they meet certain requirements.
Students would have to be younger than 16 when they entered the country and not older than 35, live continuously in the U.S. for at least five years, have good moral character and be accepted at a higher education institution or complete a high school-level education.
A letter sent by Crow and other university presidents to U.S. senators in May states that revised policies could provide those students with access to higher education.
“The undocumented high school graduates who are qualified to attend college have been waiting now for many years for federal immigration policy to be revised…,” the letter states. “And further delay is unacceptable.”
Mena said that most of the students who are here illegally probably came to the U.S. when they were 2 or 3 years old and didn’t realize what their parents were doing.
“People that are studying and they’re going to school…those are the people that I believe should have the right to become U.S. citizens,” Mena said.
Mena plans on staying in the U.S. after college and has a promising full-time job.
“Here I have the opportunity to do everything that I want,” Mena said.
Munzir Ahmed, a psychology junior, came from Sudan in 2000 for a better education.
The U.S. was founded by immigrants, he said, and the government should allow illegal immigrants to gain citizenship.
“Some of them, they don’t even have a chance to come over here, so they’ve got to do it illegally,” Ahmed said.
Illegal immigrants also deserve higher education, he said.
“There’s a lot of smart people in different areas of the world, and a lot of them, they don’t have a chance to get higher education,” Ahmed said.
Xiao Ping Li, a May biochemistry graduate, said she moved to the U.S. about six years ago from China.
Li moved with her parents for a better education and environment.
“The life here is really slow,” Li said, whereas in China, people focus on their work and live in a fast-paced environment. “[People in Arizona] just enjoy their lives.”
It was difficult to adapt to her new country during high school, she said, because most students had been friends with each other for a while.
College was a better fit for her, she said.
“People are from all over the place,” Li said.
Now she is in the process of applying for medical school and wants to be a doctor so she can help her family with their health problems.
She said she doesn’t approve of immigrants who come to the U.S. illegally, and is against granting illegal immigrants amnesty.
“It is not fair for us, [because] we paid a lot of money and we spent a lot of time on the paperwork,” Li said.
She said that students don’t need to come here illegally, because they can apply for visas.
“It’s just not really that hard…as long as you follow procedures,” Li said.
Friday’s naturalization ceremony is required to complete the citizenship process and involves taking an oath, said Charles Harrell, the branch chief for the Phoenix Field Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
There are usually two naturalization ceremonies every Friday at state courts, he said, but the Fiesta of Independence ceremony at South Mountain Community College is one of the biggest.
“It’s become kind of a traditional thing,” Harrell said.
The ceremony was sponsored by South Mountain Community College and administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Since January, 5,230 immigrants have become citizens in Arizona.
MAGDALENA DE KINO, Sonora - Oscar Vazquez stood proudly in his cap and gown as he was introduced as an outstanding graduate from Arizona State University's Class of 2009. He was in the front row, not far from an applauding President Barack Obama, there to deliver the commencement address.
A year later, Vazquez sat in a dark bedroom in this dusty city, his engineering degree tucked in a scrapbook filled with other mementos of his college days.
OAS_AD('ArticleFlex_1') Even as he listened to Obama speak of brighter futures, Vazquez knew his path first would have to go through Mexico, where he would admit his illegal status and ask for permission to re-enter the U.S.
Shortly after graduation in May 2009, Vazquez moved to Mexico, separating himself from his U.S. citizen wife and year-old daughter in Phoenix. He figures to remain here at least through March, when, according to a letter from the government, authorities will decide whether he can legally return to the United States.
Vazquez stands by his decision to turn himself in.
"I've got to stay positive," he said. "I have to. Or else you get depressed just being here by myself."
Vazquez lives in a sparsely furnished two-room duplex, spending most of his time in the bedroom, the one room that has air-conditioning. He works the night shift at a factory that produces electronic parts for automobiles. He showed his degree in mechanical engineering to his bosses because they didn't really believe he had one.
Unwilling immigrant Vazquez, 24, did not want to enter the United States illegally. But he was 12 and, despite his protests, did as his mother told him.
As he got close to college graduation, though, Vazquez knew he had gone as far as an illegal immigrant could go. Companies that hired college graduates did not look the other way when it came to immigration status, something Vazquez learned when he was denied college internships.
"I didn't want to get stuck in a low-end job and not be able to apply my degree to anything," he said.
Vazquez is seeking a waiver of grounds of excludability - essentially asking the government to forgive his illegal presence in the country and allow him to stay. Under the law, because Vazquez illegally remained in the country for so long after his 18th birthday, he is barred from the U.S. for 10 years.
Vazquez must make his case through paperwork. He waits in Mexico for the bureaucracy to churn out a decision.
"So far," Vazquez said, "the right way has been pretty hard."
Vazquez tries to keep himself busy so he doesn't dwell on his situation. He's teaching himself guitar. He's re-reading his college textbooks on rocketry and aerodynamics. He has a dirt bike, a great mode of transportation in this hilly town, where most streets are unpaved. The bike also is something for him to tinker with, keeping his mechanical skills sharp.
Quick visits Karla, Vazquez's wife, visits when she can, usually for two days at a time. In June, she took a vacation from her job at an airport rental-car counter to spend a week with her husband. She pulled up to his apartment - one half of a house along a dirt road - and honked the horn. Vazquez emerged and approached the car.
"Say hi," Karla told the couple's daughter, Samantha. "Say hi to your daddy."
Vazquez leaned in and tickled Samantha's chin as Karla held her. The couple greeted each other with a quick embrace and a peck, as if Karla had just returned from the store, not a weeks-long separation. Karla said the two want to keep their emotions in check so that Samantha doesn't sense anything unusual. They hope this is resolved in March and that the baby won't remember being separated from her father.
Vazquez doesn't want to miss more of his daughter growing up. She took her first steps two weeks before Vazquez crossed into Mexico, the last milestone he was there to see.
When these trips started, the baby would recoil from Vazquez.
"It did take awhile for her to warm up," Karla said, as Oscar sat on the floor playing with Samantha. "She wouldn't go with him."
The three spend their visits in the apartment. No plans. They just want to be together.
Vazquez and his wife thought about, but quickly dismissed, the idea of the family moving together to Mexico to wait for the U.S. government's decision. "It's better for them to stay back home," Vazquez said. "There's nothing for them to come here for."
Father's footsteps In his way, Vazquez is making the same sacrifice his father did: crossing a border in hopes of a better life. Vazquez's father, who lives in Phoenix, left the family's small village of Temósachic in Chihuahua and found work in a Phoenix factory that made box springs. He arranged for his wife and son to join him, but Vazquez didn't want to go. He had done well in primary school and won a middle-school scholarship, money his mother used instead on bus tickets to the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora. Vazquez remained silent on the seven-hour bus ride.
A man drove them to a hole in the border fence and told them to run. It seemed like a marathon to the young Vazquez, though he would later discover it was less than a mile to the Walmart parking lot in Douglas, where they were loaded into a car and driven to Phoenix.
Vazquez excelled at Carl Hayden Community High School in west Phoenix, sticking with the ROTC program even after finding out he couldn't join the military because of his legal status.
Vazquez gained a passion for engineering through the school's robotics club. He and three other club members beat out colleges - including MIT - to win a national underwater-robot competition. Their victory was detailed in Wired magazine.
Vazquez earned scholarships to attend ASU's College of Engineering. His picture graced the cover of the school's recruiting brochure. But he lost the scholarships in 2006 when Arizona passed a law that barred undocumented students • from receiving state financial aid. He also had to pay out-of-state tuition, raising the cost by thousands of dollars. To finish school, Vazquez worked construction jobs and used donations from Wired readers and private scholarships.
Hoping on a DREAM There's no way to know how many college graduates have sought permission to become legal residents. Most, Vazquez said, still are hoping Congress passes the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to immigrants who entered as children and went to college or joined the military.
Vazquez said he simply grew frustrated and wanted to take action.
"At least now we know the path we have to take," he said. "It's better to know than it is to be waiting."
Vazquez e-mailed advice to a fellow Arizona student who was trying the same process. In mid-June, he heard that the government had granted her waiver. He doesn't know why she was let in and he hasn't been.
Vazquez's character and accomplishments won't enter into the government's decision. The deciding factor is whether his exclusion from the country would cause "extreme hardship" for his wife.
Karla, a Phoenix native, is angry that her country has to ponder whether her husband of five years can live with his family.
"I see the part where, OK, everyone says they want to secure the border because - you know what? - there are a lot of bad people who come over," she said. "But for everyone who was brought over a child - they don't have a choice."
If Vazquez is denied re-entry, the family probably will move to Canada or Europe. Vazquez's engineering degree means he can find a job fairly easily.
"As it sits right now, I can go anywhere in the world except the United States," he said.
Vazquez tries to keep his situation in perspective. He likens the time away from his wife and daughter to military members serving overseas - fitting because Vazquez still wants to join the service, possibly the Marines, if he isn't too old when he gains residency status.
Much to offer When he began this process, Vazquez wasn't sure how long he'd be away from his family. Karla and Samantha accompanied him to Juarez in September for his initial hearing.
He was denied his waiver, filed an appeal and was told to expect an answer in two months. He said goodbye to his wife and daughter and moved in with relatives back in his remote hometown, tucked into the mountains of Chihuahua, hoping it would be a brief separation.
But in November, he was told he needed to show more evidence of extreme hardship to his wife. The letter said his case would require further review and that he could expect an answer in 15 months.
Vazquez wanted to live somewhere close enough for his wife and daughter to visit often. But he didn't want to live in a border town because he thought it would be too dangerous. Magdalena, about an hour's drive south of the border, seemed the best choice.
But even in this sparsely populated town, locals told Vazquez not to wear a seat belt. In a hijacking, they told him, it's easier to get away if you're not strapped in.
Vazquez was hired at the auto-parts factory and quickly promoted to night supervisor. Some co-workers know he has an engineering degree.
"They always wonder, 'How come you're here if you're an engineer?' " Vazquez said. "It seems odd to them."
It seems odd to Vazquez, too. And if he allows himself to think about it, his frustration builds. He wants to use his education to contribute to the United States, which has to import engineers.
When he graduated, everyone, including President Obama, was applauding his achievement and his potential. It's hard to think the country would let all that go to waste.
"They have me," he said, his voice rising. "They schooled me. I know the culture. I know everything.