Itziri, a sophomore at Davidson College, is determined to wring every ounce of potential out of her education. In addition to undertaking a double major in Africana studies and political science, she’s been a campus cheerleader, a research assistant, a tour guide, a student ambassador, a tutor to elementary school children, and a leader in a Latino students group. Now, she’s working to found a campus chapter of Define American, a nonprofit group that raises awareness of immigration issues.
Itziri is also an undocumented immigrant, which she says makes her value the opportunities she’s been given even more. Her own parents didn’t get much of an education. Growing up in Aguacalientes, in central Mexico, her mother earned a high school diploma, while her father didn’t finish middle school. They were determined to give their daughter opportunities they never had, so when Itziri was just six months old, they bundled her up and brought her across the border into America. It was a gamble that paid off. “I’ve gotten to immerse myself in a place where I can learn about everything I want to learn about,” she says.
legal status and eventual citizenship would make it possible for her to participate more fully in the only country she has ever called home.
And yet, immigration policy put major obstacles in the way of her education. Itziri’s parents, who, like her, remain undocumented, don’t have much money — her father runs a small store and her mother waitresses — so paying tuition at the out-of-state rates undocumented students are charged would have been impossible. Most student loans and scholarships are also off limits to people without authorized status, making college unaffordable for many Dreamers, or certain young people brought to America without documents as children. “Growing up, it was very hard because my parents always had to talk to me about how I shouldn’t get my hopes up, and about how I’m different from other kids,” Itziri says.
Former President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order deferring deportation proceedings for some undocumented young people gave Itziri a measure of security, and it allowed her to qualify for a driver’s license. But college only became a realistic possibility after she won a full scholarship through Golden Door Scholars, a program for undocumented immigrants funded by corporations like Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank.
Still, Itziri’s immigration status continues to hold her back. “No matter how good my grades are, it’s something I can’t make go away,” she says. Her current immunity from deportation is a temporary fix, and it could end if President Donald Trump opts to roll back Obama’s executive order. Itziri aspires to get a postgraduate education and have a career in government, but her undocumented status could prevent her from even getting a job after graduation.
Immigration reform that could provide a pathway to citizenship would “make a world of difference,” Itziri says. “The biggest difference is that I’d have certainty, and I wouldn’t have to worry about my future being in someone else’s hands,” she says. But it would also open up new opportunities. Itziri longs to apply to programs like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, or for a Fulbright scholarship, all of which are only open to U.S. citizens and legal residents. More importantly, she says, legal status and eventual citizenship would make it possible for her to participate more fully in the only country she has ever called home. “I’d be able to vote — I’ve always dreamed of being able to vote,” she says. “After being here for so long, we definitely care for the future of the country. We all want to contribute and to be part of making this country a better place.”