Adela Valladares Gonzalez studies for an upcoming test at Riverland Community College Tuesday. As an undocumented high school student, Valladares Gonzalez is one of thousands of teens and adults hoping that federal legislators pass immigration reform.
Adela Valladares studies for an upcoming test at Riverland Community College Tuesday. As an undocumented high school student, Valladares is one of thousands of teens and adults hoping that federal legislators pass immigration reform. — Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

Undocumented students speak out about U.S. debate on immigration

Published 10:36am Monday, July 8, 2013

Adela Valladares is proud to be an Austinite.

Her family moved to Minnesota when she was 4 years old and she considers this community her hometown. The 17-year-old Austin High School student used to play basketball and volleyball, and she still participates in extracurricular activities like Link Crew and Jovenes De Valor. She has many of the same dreams 17-year-olds share: She wants to get a job soon and she is already looking at colleges.

Valladares isn’t your average high school student, however. She’s an undocumented resident, one of thousands of students who applied for special status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, which grants renewable rights to defer deportation but doesn’t grant legal citizenship. Valladares is also one of the millions of undocumented residents watching the national immigration debate take place in Congress in hopes legislators create a pathway to citizenship for people already here.

Yet despite her legal status, Valladares is one of many local examples of people who are looking to become U.S. residents through immigration reform.

“Here is where I grew up,” Valladares said.

 

Unique family

Valladares was born in Mexico City, the only child among her siblings to be born outside of the U.S. She came with her parents to California when she was 1 year old, but her family didn’t stay there long.

“Things are more expensive in California and jobs don’t pay well there,” she said.

That’s why her parents decided to come to Austin, where they got jobs at local meatpacking factories.

She knew about her citizenship status from an early age, as she overheard friends and family members discuss the latest immigration raids and who had recently been deported.

“People around town would talk about it,” she said. “[Mom] would explain to me it was because, ‘Oh, they’re not citizens, they’re not born here in the U.S., so they can’t be here unless they have a green card.’”

That’s when Valladares would ask about her legal status. Her parents gave her the same reason many undocumented residents say they want to come to the U.S.: To work toward a better life, to put their children through free public school, and to give their family opportunities they never had.

“They would say they left everything they loved behind to give us a better life, so we should take advantage of that,” she said. “Take advantage of the things they couldn’t have.”

Valladares doesn’t often discuss her legal status with her friends. It’s difficult for her to describe how her situation feels normal to people who can’t fathom living in another country illegally, especially because of the stigma associated with undocumented residents.

That’s how other students like Uriel Lazaro and Maria Garcia feel. Both Albert Lea High School seniors are in similar situations as Valladares. All came to Minnesota as small children, all have filed for the DACA process, and all hope immigration reform will allow them to become citizens.

“I want to be the first in my family to go to college,” Lazaro said.

Life can be tough for undocumented high schoolers. A high school student without legal citizenship can’t find a part-time job, can’t apply for a driver’s license and can’t secure financial loans for college, which limits their opportunities.

Garcia found this out firsthand when, at 15 years old, she tried to get a job in the area.

“I decided that I wanted to work and my mom was like, ‘Oh, you can’t really work,’” she said.

 

Local problems, federal solutions

Immigration reform is among the most contentious issues federal legislators have dealt with for years, though many thought 2013 could be the year the U.S. changes its immigration policies.

President Barack Obama made immigration reform his top domestic priority last year and senators recently passed a landmark immigration reform act drawn up by a so-called Gang of Eight, which included provisions for citizenship requirements for undocumented residents already in the U.S., business visa reforms, expanded employment verification systems and funding for more border security.

Yet the House of Representatives may put off immigration reform this year, as U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner said last month House Republicans would vote against any reform act that includes a pathway to citizenship. Representatives are expected to work out their own immigration proposal in the coming weeks.

The federal logjam on immigration comes as no surprise to local officials.

“Everybody wants to serve their own self interest, but [legislators are] not looking at the bigger picture for the country,” said Mayor Tom Stiehm.

Local officials have dealt with immigration issues for years, such as the influx of Sudanese refugees to the community over the past decade or the anti-immigration rallies organized by local neo-Nazi leaders in 2009. Yet Stiehm and other local leaders say their hands are tied over responding to immigration concerns.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen and the best that anyone can do is just stay informed,” said Jeffrey Jurewicz, community organizer for Owatonna-based Centro Campesino, a Latino advocacy organization.

Jurewicz said young students should continue to apply for DACA status to create a paper trail in case legislators pass immigration reform and DACA is still open to undocumented residents.

As the immigration debate continues, more students like Valladares will likely speak up. Valladares said she decided to come forward to let others know undocumented residents had a stake in the issue as well.

“My mom told me it’s good that I can speak up for others who can’t,” she said.


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  • anony-mouse

    Her illegal parents working at the local meatpacking factory….hmmm… I wonder what company that could be?? Any idea how many LEGAL citizens are trying to get into Hormel, QPP, and Jenny-O right now??

    Report comment

  • Anonymous2

    My nephew, a legal resident of this country, tried to get a job there, but couldn’t.

    Report comment

    • Grampa Jones

      Know why?

      Report comment

      • JustAnother70sName

        Exactly. Every US citizen wants to work pushing brains out of pigs for slightly above minimum wage. It’s the American dream. (And illegal labor wouldn’t be an issue if there was a strong union. Can’t have it both ways…)

        Report comment

      • Grampa Jones

        Stephanie has it right on. The end of union power in Austin coincides almost exactly with the start of this issue.

        The government has little power in this situation, it’s the big companies that have incentivized and minimized the risk for immigrants (illegal or not) to work here and push out brains. No incentive to come, no workers needed.

        Most Natural born citizens have been led to believe that they should be better off then their parents and should work a job they love. The companies bring in these workers without care of the legal status, working conditions, low pay ect ect and put profit over the law.

        You gotta put yourself in the shoes of others. Sometime breaking the law is the right thing to do. I guess when I look at it with me own children, if given the choice of living in abject poverty with little chance of anything above a 6th grade education and following a countries immigration law, or making better money with better living conditions with effective police and better schools and more opportunity and not following immigration law, the choice would be easy. As I said before, just because something is “the law” does not necessarily mean that it is always the right thing. It can’t be black and white.

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  • OldManOnTheBackPorch

    This will always be a sore subject with the legal residents of this area, especially those who feel they have been passed over for employment in favor of people not here legally. For the sake of journalistic balance, you should talk to a few of them as well.

    Report comment

  • Tedi Bear

    Mower County law enforcement refuses to return illegal immigrants when found, they will only report them if they have broke the law—-I wonder if they have ever watched the series
    Border Wars? Those law enforcement people are risking their lives every day and they ARE sending illegals back to Mexico–why, because they have broke the law coming here illegally!!!!!!

    Report comment

    • Gene Groby

      My wife is from the Philippines and I filed the necessary paperwork, paid the appropriate fees to the United States and the Republic of the Philippine . Allowing illegal aliens to stay here is a virtual slap to everyone who follows the laws. Calling an illegal alien an undocumented worker is comparable to calling a person who makes meth an unlicensed pharmacist.

      Report comment

      • jmdaniel

        You’re exactly right, Gene. My wife is from Canada, and as part of the process of obtaining her green card, I had to raise my right hand and attest to the immigration official that our marriage was not a sham, thrown together so she could get her green card. The liberals, and liberal media want to shove this down our throats, and the Mayor of Austin should be ridden out of town on a rail for his stance.

        Report comment

      • Grampa Jones

        Go ahead and run for mayor. Make this your main campaign stance.

        You’ll see what people really think.

        And what exactly are the “Marxist-Commie” writers at the ADH trying to shove down our throats?

        Get a life, cause I don’t get it.

        Report comment

      • jmdaniel

        I need to “get a life”, simply because you don’t get it? I suspect there are a few things outside your grasp, not just this one.

        Report comment

      • Gene Groby

        Mr. Daniel,
        I do not know you but I have a very good grasp on reality. If I follow the rules and laws of this country, than everyone else should as well.

        Report comment

      • jmdaniel

        Gene, my comment was not directed to you. You can see that by looking at the top of the comment, where you will see an arrow to the right of my name, and to the right of that, Grampa Jones. You may also be able to see the comment was directed to him because I used his words, “get a life”, in the response. And finally, you should probably be able to realize I wasn’t talking to you because earlier in this comment string, I replied to you by writing “You’re exactly right, Gene.” We have no disagreements.

        Report comment

  • jmdaniel

    Very sloppy reporting, Trey. Let me clear up a couple of things for you:

    - Adela is not an “undocumented resident”. She is an ILLEGAL ALIEN. The only reason she is still here is that we have a government that will not enforce its own laws.

    - The fact that she was born in Mexico is irrelevant, IF one or both of her parents are American citizens. The laws for children born out of the country are clearly stated, and just a Google search away.

    Why don’t all of these “woe is me” stories include the legal status of the forlorn students parents? The very first line on the application form for DACA should ask for current contact info for their parents. And if the parents are here illegally, deport them. I understand the story slant to drum up sympathy for kids brought here by their parents, while their parents were breaking our laws, but that doesn’t fly with me, with regard to their criminal parents still being here.

    Report comment

    • Grampa Jones

      So a convicted felon’s children should suffer the same restrictions and limitations their parents face being a convicted felon? Same idea.

      I don’t think what their parents did should have any bearing or relation to the application. They should be judged on the content of their character (school work, attendance, trouble-making, ect) These kids are just as American as any other in language, culture, ect.

      Report comment

      • anony-mouse

        the children shouldn’t suffer. if they want their children to get an education in the united states, there are legal ways to make that happen. the children ARE suffering by being here illegally. The illegal parents are just selfish nit-wits who leech off our system so their kids can get their “Free education.” You chose to give birth to your kids in mexico, raise them there too. You could have came here legally, but you didn’t. The children of these selfish people will suffer when they are deported back to a country they don’t even remember being in.

        Report comment

      • Grampa Jones

        ..and that’s why I believe it shouldn’t happen! It’s ok to do the right thing you know. The kids should get to stay. Legalize them, include them, plug them in and let them participate in the system. Invest in the ones who deserve it.

        Report comment

      • jmdaniel

        They are not as American as American kids in one key category. Citizenship. Period. You want to live here legally, it’s pretty simple, follow the legal process. Like my wife did, when she got her green card.

        Report comment

      • Grampa Jones

        A kid like her though had no choice. She is going through what is now the legal process and I think it should be expedient for kids who deserve it.

        Report comment

      • jmdaniel

        Why should it be expedient for her, as opposed to the normal process, which many people, including my wife, have had to go through? Have we sunk so low in this country, in terms of political correctness, that we now want to make the process easier for KNOWN CRIMINALS?

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  • David Dena Wiseman

    i have no issue with immigration. I do have issue with illegal immigration. If you think it is to costly to come across the border legally what do you suppose was the cost paid to cross the Atlantic ocean to come here. A lot of Money that illegals make does not even stay in this country it gets sent back to help their families(which is okay) but to what social security account are they paying to and are they receiving assistance.

    Report comment

  • your daddy

    people are so jealous of us =P

    Report comment

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