Sunday, July 08, 2012

UTPA's DREAMers extend their influence across the Valley

UTPA's DREAMers extend their influence across the Valley 

ast Updated: 7 July 2012 
By Steve Taylor
UTPA's Minority Affairs Council hopes to take its 'Right to Dream' educational forums across the Rio Grande Valley.      

EDINBURG, July 7 - The Minority Affairs Council is expanding its influence beyond UT-Pan American in order to help thousands of students across the Rio Grande Valley who live in fear of deportation.

MAC is helping set up similar groups at UT-Brownsville and South Texas College. It is also planning to go into high schools across the region to explain how students can take advantage of President Obama’s “Deferred Action” initiative.

“There are so many students who are scared to tell their counselors about their status. We want to come in and help and provide the information they need about this new initiative,” said Candido Renteria, president of MAC.

Renteria said there is great solidarity among students in support of Deferred Action. “It does not matter if you are an immigrant student or not. There is a collective effort by students to help each other out. We are expanding our activities because this issue is so important,” he said.

MAC was started last winter in part in response to the suicide of Joaquin Luna, an 18-year-old student at Juarez-Lincoln High School in La Joya. Luna, who was born in Miguel Aleman, Mexico, was getting good grades at school. His family believes he committed suicide because he was depressed about the lack of progress with the DREAM Act in Washington, D.C. Without this legislation passing, Luna believed he would never be able to realize his dream of becoming an engineer. The DREAM Act would give many immigrant students the chance to become permanent residents.


“Joaquin died last November, when many of us were taking our finals. Over the break we got together and said, we need to put an organization together because there seems to be a gap in the information being made available to students in the high school,” Renteria said.
Esther Herrera is secretary of MAC. Herrera said that prior to MAC starting there was no organization really championing the DREAM Act at UTPA. Now, in just a few short months, she said, the group has formed strong alliances with DREAMers in other universities across Texas, with United We DREAM, with the Texas DREAM Alliance and with La Unión del Pueblo Entero. In no time at all it won ‘New Student Group of the Year’ at UTPA. In April, MAC held a tribute event for Joaquin Luna and made a presentation to his family.

“We are very proactive with the Mexican speaking community. We are trying hard to disseminate the information students need,” Herrera said.

When MAC was started, its members believed their main job was to explain what scholarship opportunities existed for undocumented students. In Texas, such students can get state aid. “We came to the view that many counselors in schools and colleges did not have all the information for undocumented students who want to go to college,” Renteria said.

However, when the Obama administration announced on June 15 an Administrative Relief initiative to help undocumented students, MAC’s focus inevitably changed. Now, the group is busy explaining how Deferred Action will work and what students need to do to get their application in.

Under the initiative, certain young people who entered the U.S. before they were 16 will no longer be removed from the country. Qualifying individuals will be granted “deferred action” and be eligible for a two-year work permit.

In order to qualify for deferred action and a work permit, a student must:
  1. Have come to the United States under the age of 16;
  2. Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum; (June 15, 2012)
  3. Currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
  5. Not be above the age of 30.

Renteria said MAC is using the UTPA campus as its hub but is reaching out into the wider community through its connections with LUPE. Thanks to LUPE, an immigrant community group that helps colonia residents in Alton, Mercedes, the Delta, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, MAC has been able to get immigration attorneys to attend their forums.
At a recent “Right to Dream: Educational Forum,” hosted by MAC at UTPA, Carlos M. Garcia, an immigration attorney with Garcia & Garcia, Attorneys at Law in McAllen, and Lauren Joyner, an immigration attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Edinburg, were able to give advice to students and parents about Deferred Action.

“We are all trying to share all the information we get as best we can,” said Renteria. “We are archiving all the materials we receive from our primary affiliate, United We Dream, which is a national group. And, hopefully, we are going to create a database of information that students and the general public can use.”

Thus far, MAC has made power point presentations in two high schools. Renteria hopes superintendents across the Valley will allow the group to come in, perhaps with immigration attorneys, and explain how Deferred Action will work.

“When the government issues its guidelines on Deferred Action we will hold a news conference. We expect a lot of students to be looking for guidance and we want to be that guide. So many people are going to want to apply. But they may not have all the information they need,” Renteria said.

According to UTPA President Robert Nelsen there are 599 DREAMers at UTPA. Renteria said the number of students or former students who could benefit from Deferred Action in the Valley runs into the thousands. He points to the high school students who will be entering university soon and the undocumented immigrants who have graduated in recent years. “The younger students may not want a work permit but they will want to avoid the threat of deportation,” Renteria said.

Asked what he thought of the President’s initiative, Renteria said: “I think it is great. President Obama said for many years that he supports the youth of America and this proves it. He has created a huge policy change. Once we have Deferred Action it will allow us to give back to our country.”

Renteria said the mood among undocumented students is now one of relief. “Students want an end to the deportations. Deportation is a big fear among students. The fear of being separated from family is huge,” he said.
Write Steve Taylor

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