Soon-to-graduate Latinos question futures
June 6, 2007
Twelve Latinos are prepared to graduate from Park City High School on June 8. Eight plan to attend college. The majority have spent most of their lives in the United States. If they are undocumented though their futures are uncertain. But that could change.
All but one of the 12 have been in the United States since the fourth grade or longer, said District Latino Outreach counselor Nora Buchanan, essentially making them more Anglo than Latino. Undocumented graduates face the possibility of being deported to a country they barely know.
"These are Park City kids," Buchanan said. If they are born in the United States, children of undocumented residents automatically become American citizens. Those not born in the U.S. are welcomed into the public schools, all the way through college, but few can afford college education they have spent years preparing for.
Buchanan believes that the students who will soon graduate have overcome so many obstacles that they will not give up now.
Said high school ESL teacher Anna Williams, "These kids are among the hardest working at the high school. You can’t even imagine."
Last week, senior Jose Santana received three community-based scholarships. He has worked since the age of eight, coming to the United States with his family at age 12.
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"Mexicans tend to look at the here and now. Americans look into the future," Santana said, adding, "In Mexico, most of us don’t have a high education. We don’t see ourselves forming a family. We don’t make big plans. A lot of the people are afraid they won’t reach them. I feel I can. I make big plans."
Santana is grateful for the scholarships but was expecting to make it on his own. I Didn’t know which college I’d go to, but I knew I would go to college and I would make it." When Santana learned of the three scholarships he was awarded, he was excited, making plans to first attend Utah Valley State College, then transfer to the University of Utah, to study filmmaking.
But for even the most outstanding of undocumented students, the future is uncertain. Yapias said that as the law stands now, deportation has to be in the back of these students’ minds. "If immigration knocks on their door, they could lose it all by just being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"It’s always in the back of their heads," said Buchanan. "It could be the end of the American Dream for them, their families, their friends, their neighbors. It’s constant."
Buchanan said undocumented people live in a climate of fear. They don’t know who they can turn to for help, who they can trust. "These people don’t want to ask for help – they don’t think they deserve it. They don’t think they have the rights." Because of their vulnerability, she said they are constantly being scammed. Considering that all his hard work could be dashed if he were deported, Santana exudes optimism. "I’ve thought about that," he said of being returned to Mexico, but he seems undaunted. "I enjoy the moment. I’ve always dreamed about this. I am so greatful to be here. I always try to do my best in school, and help my family. I love it here. There are lots of great opportunities here. Lots of organizations here to help us. My greatest plan is to become a filmmaker and influence people in a in a good way."
While Santana’s future looks bright, it is not that way for many Latinos, said Tony Yapias. "Four out of 10 Latinos don’t graduate in the state of Utah. Those statistics are mainly dealing with boys. They think, ‘why prepare for college if I can’t afford it?’ They don’t believe they can make it."
Even the undocumented with a college degree cant legally work in their profession," Yapias said of the current laws. Ana Granados, a PCHS senior who was born in the United States, would love to study International business, but does not know how she can afford college, despite her citizenship. Both her parents live in Mexico City, and she is living with her brothers. "They have to pay bills. They can’t help me. I want to continue, but I’m so frustrated. I want to make a difference."
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah says while many high school students work as they attend school, often to help support their families, they are unable to receive federal funding for college. He said he is hopeful that the DREAM Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, in 2003, will eventually become law.
"I’m the most optimistic guy on Earth," Yapias said. "The Immigration Act will pass and the DREAM Act will be part of it."
The Development, Relief, and Education for Allien Minors Act, as proposed, would allow immigrant students who had grown up in the United States, who have graduated from high school and demonstrate high character, to obtain a permanent green card lasting six years. By either attaining a college education, or joining the Armed Forces, they would be eligible for permanent resident status. They would also be eligible for federal grants and loans, which, would be the only way many of the high school graduates could afford a college education, he said.
All of the kids are in limbo until Congress passes the Immigration Act, Yapias said. "Can you imagine if students could get a temporary green card to go to college and a permanent green card when they graduate, or leave the Armed Services? That provides so much incentive to continue. Otherwise, for example, mom and dad would have to work eight years, pay a lot of money, then move back to their country of origin before they could apply for what the DREAM Act provides, Yapias said.