Thursday, December 9, 2010

Support Mayra’s DREAM


By Carmen Cornejo

Mayra is a famous Arizona student. She has been mentioned on the floor of the U.S. Senate as an example of a determined young lady. Her lovely face, framed by wild curls, is also on the website of Richard Durbin, the Senior Senator from Illinois. But our Arizona State Senators do not celebrate young people like her.

Ironically, only because she has nothing to lose, was she willing to be made famous.

Mayra has beaten all odds. She comes from a working class family in a rural part of Arizona where expectations are tamed for everybody, especially Hispanic kids. She graduated from high school at the top of her class. She was also a student leader who headed the youth advisory board of her town. Now she is in college.

I met her by phone because she was painfully aware that her opportunities to get a scholarship to continue her education beyond high school would be limited, if not impossible. After carefully questioning me, she confided her secret: She was an undocumented student and wanted to know if college could be a possibility for her. I described how Arizona has passed laws tripling the cost of higher education for people like her, but that there would be a narrow window to search for scholarships by private donors.

When high school graduation came I got a call from Mayra informing me that she was awarded a private scholarship to a private university out of state. Needless to say, I was proud of her.

This is the kind of hardworking, deserving youth that the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would reward by providing a path to legalization -- not amnesty -- so they can access post-secondary education and eventually become citizens.

These youth came here as minors, some as babies when their parents immigrated in search of a better life, filling some of the most exhausting and demanding jobs at the bottom of the economic pyramid. They grew up as Americans, with a special sense of purpose. Mayra describes it like this: "From the time I was intellectually capable of understanding its significance, my dream was to be the first college graduate in my immediate and extended family.” “College means more to me than just a four-year degree. It means the breaking of a family cycle. It means progression and fulfillment of an obligation."

Unfortunately, when her dream of higher education had just begun, she was detained by immigration authorities when her home was raided. Fortunately, her supporters helped her avoid internment at a horrific immigration detention center. However, she is in the “system” and is fighting deportation.

Having nothing to lose, Mayra now shares her story. She wants to be a person without the “undocumented” label so she can study hard and contribute to the betterment of this country. Expert university recruiters know that her kind of guts and drive is rare to find. Only persons who do not take for granted opportunity and freedom have this kind of passion for education.

The DREAM Act would bring us the benefits of a talented professional pool that will take this country to new levels of competitiveness and richness. In reality we are the ones with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Cornejo is executive director of CADENA, a DREAM Act advocacy group in Arizona comprised of educators and professionals that have been working for the passage of the DREAM Act since 2002.
Copyright © 2010 by Arizona Editorial Forum. 12/10