Why One Undocumented Student is Walking the Trail of Dreams
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Four students who were brought to the United States by their families when they were young and are still undocumented are walking 1,500 miles from their homes in Miami, Fla. to Washington, D.C., to ask for immigration reform. Carlos Roa, 22, is one of the four Trail of Dreams walkers who are calling for the implementation of The Dream Act, federal legislation that would give undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children a pathway to citizenship after completing college. It would also give them access to private loans, to help pay for their university education. Carlos arrived in the United States at the age of 2 and has been living here for 20 years without documents. He spoke with NAM editor Carolyn Goossen.
How did you and your family come to live in the United States?
My grandfather was living in New York. He was a banquet hall manager at the New York Hilton and was very successful. When he got sick, my father, who was an only child, decided to come to the United States from Venezuela to take care of him.
My grandfather petitioned for my father to get citizenship during this visit, but then my grandfather passed away. My father inherited some money, property and stocks from his father, so he decided to stay. He really wanted his children to be educated here, so he brought my mother, my older sister and myself to the United States from Caracas, Venezuela. I was 2 years old.
Were your parents able to work here?
In Venezuela, my father worked for the Polar Beer Company, and my mother was a housewife. When he came here, he decided to invest his inheritance to open a business in Miami. He wanted to sell industrial products to Venezuela, but his business was unsuccessful, and my dad had to close it down. That’s when things went downhill for us.
My little sister was born, and my mother developed breast cancer, and we started struggling financially. We were evicted time after time.
My father was unable to fix his status. He could never get a steady job, or a good job, because he didn’t have any papers. In those days, he at least had a license, but then after 9-11, things got even worse in the state of Florida for immigrants and they changed the law regarding licenses. When my father’s license expired he was not allowed to renew it because of his status.
What was it like being an undocumented student?
I always knew I was undocumented, but I didn’t really understand what it meant until high school. When my older sister and I got to high school we would talk about our status a lot with our parents. We’d always be on my father’s case, and ask him, what the hell are we going to do after high school? When are we getting our papers?
At the same time, my mother’s cancer was getting worse, and we were still dealing with evictions, and the daily struggles of poverty.
Our friends were getting drivers licenses, looking forward to life after high school. And we were evading the simplest questions like, what are you going to do after high school?
What was the hardest part of high school for you?
Senior year was the most depressing year. I remember just working as many odd jobs as I could, trying to help out the family.
I didn’t dare go to a college counselor to ask about the possibility of college, because I didn’t want them know about my status. I remember my assistant principal asking me at graduation ‘Carlos, what are you going to do after high school?’ I remember lying, saying, ‘I’m going to join the air force,’ even when I knew I couldn’t do that.