When Jessica Garcia and Dario Andrade graduate this week from Pima Community College, they’ll do so with dreams of continuing their studies at the University of Arizona.
But it’s unlikely, at this point, that both graduates of local high schools will be able to attend the UA. They would have to pay out-of-state tuition, which at nearly $30,000 a year, is impossible for them.
Garcia and Andrade are Dreamers, young Americans who were brought to this country as children and lack legal residency. While the two have received Deferred Action, which allows them to work without risk of being deported, it is temporary. But Deferred Action, granted two years ago by President Obama, does not apply to their family members.
“Our families are in fear of being deported,” said Garcia, a business major who graduated from Sunnyside High School in 2009.
I met with the two, along with Eduardo Sainz, also a Dreamer and a PCC student, at the UA Friday. Scores of smiling UA students in their graduation gowns and caps, and their proud families, milled around campus. The image was not lost on the trio.
But in a few years, the three might wear a UA graduation gown if — and it’s a big if — Congress comes to a smart agreement on comprehensive immigration reform or, lacking sensible bipartisan action, President Obama expands the Deferred Action program to include family members of the 610,000 individuals who have temporary deferred status.
There are clear signs that the Obama administration is considering executive action on immigration. Homeland Security is expected to ease up on deportations of individuals, specifically those who have no criminal record and whose family members are U.S. citizens.
In a White House speech to law-enforcement officials from across the country, Obama urged them to support immigration reform. He said it is the right road to take but that Republicans are blocking immigration reform.
The Dreamers don’t buy the president’s finger-pointing. They say the lack of comprehensive immigration falls on both political parties.
“We hold both sides accountable. At the end of the day, it comes down to politics,” said Sainz, a 2011 graduate of Flowing Wells High School who is working with Mi Familia Vota, a voter outreach program. “They’re not thinking what’s best for our families and our communities. They’re thinking what’s best for their parties.”
The three want the government to end deportations that separate families. They want a permanent solution to allow their parents, siblings and themselves to live in peace in a country they call home.
Andrade knows all too well the horror of deportation.
In December his mother was stopped by police. The car she was driving was emitting too much smoke. Police called the Border Patrol, and she was taken to the Eloy Detention Center, where she spent four days.
The family rallied to get her released on a $4,000 bond, but she still faces deportation to Mexico, which she left more than 10 years ago with her husband and three children.
That’s the reality of Dreamers — highly motivated young people who live fearful lives full of obstacles. Here in Arizona, they can’t even get drivers’ licenses.
They also fear that Congress will not pass immigration reform and that Obama, fearful of Republican backlash, will not expand Deferred Action or ease deportation of families.
However, they refuse to stop championing their just cause.
Garcia, who works with Scholarships A-Z — which supports Dreamers in their pursuit of college — said the group will continue to engage others and broaden public support.
Sainz said he and other Dreamers will continue to register more Latino voters. Andrade promised that more pressure will be placed on local and state political leaders.
“You have to fight for what you want,” Sainz said. “There’s nothing worse than doing nothing.”