Hope, Perseverance, Family, & Access to Education

On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education hosted an internal immigration reform briefing in which we shared how comprehensive immigration reform relates to the work we do at the Department of Education.  Immigration reform is not only about how the country deals with undocumented workers and the children they bring with them; it is also about how we help all immigrants assimilate and integrate into American society.

The briefing featured three student speakers who shared personal stories about their experiences with the immigration system.  These stories highlighted challenges faced by many immigrant students in financing their educations.

Claudia Rojas, a Northern Virginia Community College student hoping to one day pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing, shared her story of moving to Virginia twelve years ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after an earthquake destroyed her town in El Salvador. Claudia explained that her single mother works tirelessly to make ends meet and help pay for Claudia’s education, and, in Claudia’s words: “Though I often feel guilty attending college, as a first generation student, I remind myself that my degree will not be mine alone; it will belong to my mother, who couldn’t finish elementary school.”

Diego Sanchez, who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Public Policy, shared his story of how he did not fully comprehend his undocumented status until his academic advisor, at the age of 15, told him that he could not go to college. Diego explained that he felt his world was going to end, but instead of giving up, he applied and was accepted into a private college and thanks to his high standardized test scores, was given a scholarship that covered half his tuition. In order to pay the rest of his tuition, he joined the school choir, ran cross-country and joined the student government to obtain institutional funds.

Another student speaker, Angelo Mathay, is also a DACA recipient and currently serves as a law fellow at the National Immigration Law Center.   Angelo shared his experience that “the vast majority of immigrants I have worked with have fled poverty, violence and discrimination; they bring little except an unrelenting desire to work hard, contribute to society, and educate their children to become the next generation’s doctors, lawyers, and teachers.”  Angelo explained that he plans to practice immigration law to “help ensure social justice and equality for all.”

It is inspiring to learn what these students have all accomplished despite their challenges. Like other students across America, they are driven by a purpose to improve the world, a commitment to public service, and a belief that their education is the key to their success. Immigration reform is important not only for students like Angelo, Diego, and Claudia but for America’s future.

Gabriella Gomez, Assistant Secretary for The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs.