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Can’t work to pay for college because of legal status

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Every year tens of thousands of undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools, many of which were brought to this country as children. They graduate and realize that they are no longer welcome. The support and encouragement they received in school is gone.

Alfredo (not his real name) recently graduated from an area high school and is unable to go on to college because of his status. Here he describes how his family has coped during the last 12 years in the United States and their anxiety regarding Arizona’s pending anti-immigration legislation.

Alfredo: We came from Mexico when I was 7. My dad decided that he wanted to try to give me and my older brother and my little sister a better life.



Gallacher: Has it been a better life?

Alfredo: Yes, it has, in a way, but right now I am struggling with trying to continue my education and pursue my dreams. I really wanted to go on to college but I can’t because of my legal status. I don’t have the money that I would need to pay out-of-state tuition, and I have no way to get the money because, legally, I am not supposed to work.



Gallacher: Did you know English when you came?

Alfredo: No, that was a real challenge at first but I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of other kids learning English at that time. I had a lot of English as a Second Language classes. With the help from good teachers it only took me about two years to learn the language. My dad was the only one in the family who came to the United States knowing a little bit of English.

Gallacher: What are your dad and mom like?

Alfredo: They are very good parents who have helped me and encouraged me through a lot of challenges. They have always worked hard and motivated me because they knew I had a future here. They don’t want that to end but they feel like it is, because of how things appear to be changing, like in Arizona.

They are afraid for me and I don’t even want to think about the possibility of being sent back to a place I don’t know.

Gallacher: What are the fears your family is dealing with?

Alfredo: My parents are afraid to go to the stores. They worry that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents might be there on the roads stopping people and asking for identification. We are in a state of mind where fear is always present. We never know if a police stop will end in just a warning or a trip to jail and deportation.

Gallacher: So when your parents leave the house they always worry about not coming back?

Alfredo: Yes. It is not always the first thought, but it is always there. They are always looking. My dad has been a very careful driver. He hasn’t gotten any tickets or warnings in the 12 years we have been here.

Gallacher: What about you?

Alfredo: Yeah, I worry too, especially now that I am 18. The government sees me as an adult now, and I’m afraid that makes it easier for them to deport me. I imagine being with friends in the park, playing my favorite sport, and ICE agents will appear and question me and my life will suddenly change.

I am always vigilant and thinking about what might happen and that can be so frustrating because I want to live my life without those constant worries. But they are there.

Gallacher: What would it be like for you to go back to Mexico?

Alfredo: I came here when I was little so I don’t know much about Mexico. I have a few childhood memories, but that’s all. There is so much I don’t know. It would be like going back and being a stranger.

I don’t want to go back to all the violence. In the little town where I am from there have been killings.

Gallacher: So you would be going back to a place you don’t know that has become dangerous since you left?

Alfredo: Yes. My parents worry that the criminals there will assume that we are rich or have money because we have been in the United States. They have heard this story from other people who have returned to Mexico after living in the United States.

Gallacher: Has your family ever been back to Mexico?

Alfredo: No, most of my dad’s family is here but my mom has no one except us. It has been very hard for her and she is constantly talking about wanting to go and visit her relatives. But I know she wants to take all of us back to Mexico and not return.

She didn’t used to talk that way but with all that is happening in Arizona and other places she has started saying, “Why don’t we just go.” She worries about staying and she worries about what might happen to us if we go. We’re stuck.

Gallacher: How has this situation affected you?

Alfredo: It has been challenging. I really don’t want to hear any talk about going back. When they talk about it I tell them that I can’t listen and I leave. I can’t stand the thought of choosing between my family and the place where I have lived most of my life. I have already told them that if they choose to go back I’m staying here.

If they leave I will do what everyone else does, find a place to stay, get a job and try to get on with my life.

Gallacher: What is your dream?

Alfredo: I want to be a policeman and get a degree in criminal justice. All of the stuff that has been happening hasn’t turned me back. Being a policeman is something I still want to shoot for.

Gallacher: I think it’s interesting that you spend a good deal of your time trying to avoid the police but you want to be a policeman. What is it about the job that attracts you?

Alfredo: I want to be a police officer that helps people, one that the community can trust. I want to be there for those that need help. I want to help people understand the law and know that even though they may not speak English there is still justice for them and they have rights.

I have been through a lot of the youth leadership programs in the valley, the Buddy Program and CMC’s First Ascent. Those programs have helped me through so much. They have helped me stay positive when people or situations are putting me down. They have helped me become a stronger person.

Gallacher: Who else has helped you become who you are?

Alfredo: There were a lot of teachers. Most of them don’t know my story. I’m sure they have wondered, but they have supported me in everything I have wanted to do, just like my parents.

My parents have taught me to be a good citizen and help my community wherever I can. They work hard every day, and they manage to help us get by. Sometimes, these days, my dad doesn’t get paid on time and he has to wait two weeks or a month for his check. But he doesn’t give up. No matter what is thrown at him he never gives up.

He is one of those fathers that wants to see his children go far in their future even if it costs him his. I watch him and I don’t know whether to feel guilty or thankful, but I think it is a combination of the two. That makes me want to go where he wants me to go – to the future to do the best I can and never give up.

Immigrant Stories run Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com.


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