While college has a way of making some students feel invisible, others try to be invisible so they can stay in college.
In the parlance of our broken immigration system, we label these students as “illegals” or “aliens,” or the more politically correct but still foreboding term of “undocumented.”
In Sacramento, these students walk right by us as if they were ghosts or we were blind – or some combination of the two.
Opponents of immigration have brainwashed many into thinking that every last person lacking the proper documents to be in the United States should be treated the same.
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This fallacy is at the heart of a standoff in Washington, D.C., where immigration reform languishes in the House of Representatives – with grave consequences for people in places like Sacramento.
Many young people among us live in fear even though they didn’t choose to travel an “illegal” road to an America. These are college students who were brought to the United States as children, when they were far too young to fully understand what it would mean.
“My mom and dad told me: ‘You are different. You have no rights here,’ ” said Violeta Urizar, a 23-year-old student at Sacramento City College who aspires to be an American.
She wants to be an oncology nurse because she was inspired by the nurses who cared for her mother, Sofia.
But as an undocumented student, Urizar is not eligible to obtain a license to be a nurse under current law.
The federal Dream Act would have created a path to citizenship for people like Urizar – anywhere from 800,000 to 1.4 million college students and other young people seeking to serve in the U.S. military who were just little boys and girls when their job-seeking parents brought them to this country.
But this group continues to live in limbo because anti-immigrant sentiments in Congress remain entrenched.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, chided his own caucus for failing to act. No matter. Nothing is happening.
In Urizar’s case, the complexity of what to do about her parents – once desperate people who risked undocumented status for decent wages in the United States – is tragically moot. Her mom died in February at the age of 52. Her father was deported back to Mexico in 2011, a year before her mom was diagnosed with heart cancer, an extremely rare disease.
Mind you, her mom had worked at a Sacramento warehouse for years with federal and state taxes deducted from her checks. Her mom and dad paid property taxes on a home they owned near Rancho Cordova. And they paid sales taxes on everything they consumed for years.
But when Urizar’s mother became ill, she didn’t have health care because she was undocumented.
When the recession came in 2008, her dad lost his landscaping business and the house. In his sorrow, he had too much to drink, got pulled over by police and was soon deported.
These were people who were contributing to their communities and who found work that needed to be done – but couldn’t get the visas necessary to work legally in the United States.
It makes sense economically to expand the number of work visas available, but the politics of immigration prevent such a logical adjustment, one that can turn an “illegal” person into a legal one.
People caught in the middle, people such as Urizar, are left to struggle through life with the warnings her parents made about America – a life without rights.
When her mother was sick, Urizar dropped out of school for a time to clean hotel rooms so she could help the family make ends meet. “I’m a strong person,” she said.
There are more than 1,000 undocumented students within Los Rios Community College District. To its credit, the district is trying in many ways to create safe environments for Dream Act kids.
“We have to steer these kids to places where we help them fill in the gaps,” said Deborah Ortiz, a Los Rios trustee. “They are invisible to the administration and to a lot of people.”
Rhonda Rios Kravitz, a school counselor, said the Sacramento City campus is a place where students can feel relatively safe.
“But we tell students what can happen when someone knocks on their door,” she said.
On Saturday night, Urizar was to join some fellow students at a booth outside Hughes Stadium in the hopes of encountering other young, undocumented kids attending a Sacramento Republic FC soccer game. Their message: You too can have an education.
Hopefully by the time she finishes school, Urizar can be a nurse and help anyone who happens to be sick – whether they agree with whether she should be in America or not.