Ana Ramirez grew up in north-central Washington, studying hard, earning good grades, and believing she had the same opportunities as her peers. It wasn’t until she was a freshman in high school that she learned the truth. After being accepted into a European summer study program, she ran home to tell her parents the good news. They told her she could not attend.
Ramirez was brought to the United States when she was 5 months old, and she remains an undocumented immigrant. “I remember my mom saying ‘Things are different for people like us, because you weren’t born in the U.S.,’ ” she says. Ramirez’s parents knew that if she left the country, she might not be able to get back in. “I knew I wasn’t born here, but I never thought about it,” she says. “The limitations were never processed in my brain.”
Ramirez had never considered what her undocumented status meant in terms of pursuing a higher education. “I just always knew I would go to college. I was always a good student. I was on the honor roll,” she says. “I knew that because my parents were farmworkers that it would be harder for me, but I didn’t let it stop me.” In fact, Ramirez was accepted to nine of the 10 colleges to which she applied. Then reality hit: Undocumented students aren’t eligible to receive federal financial aid. She had her heart set on attending Mills College, in northern California, but even with scholarships she would not be able to pay the $50,000 annual cost without student loans.
I remember my mom saying ‘Things are different for people like us, because you weren’t born in the U.S.’
Fortunately for Ramirez, she lived in Washington state, one of 22 states that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at its public institutions. She now attends Western Washington University, in Bellingham, where she is majoring in political science. She would like one day to attend law school and run for U.S. Congress.
Her undocumented status, however, keeps throwing up obstacles that block her efforts to contribute to society and the economy. She would like to get a job on campus, to help pay her bills, but without a Social Security number she is barred from working. In another blow, she was recently elected vice president of the Associated Students of Western Washington University, only to learn that she could not accept the post without a work authorization. “This is just one more reason why we need reform,” she says.
Temporary relief may come soon for Ramirez, who has applied to join the more than 800,000 young adults who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals DACA), a 2012 policy that allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation for renewable two-year periods and to work legally in the United States. But DACA is merely a stopgap measure.
Furthermore, with the September 2017 announcement that the Trump administration would phase out DACA by March 2018 if Congress does not takes action, even that option is in peril. Ramirez would like to see Congress pass legislation that would allow people like her — who came to the United States as children and have attended American schools — to become permanent residents. Doing so would not only allow Ramirez and other Dreamers to reach their best potential to contribute, but, by doing so, it would create an estimated 1.4 million new jobs by 2030 and add more than $329 billion to the U.S. economy. For Ramirez, such reform can’t come soon enough.
“I want to give back to this country,” she says. “This is my country. This is where I grew up.”