As the discussion about illegal immigration continues, children who were brought to the United States by their parents are now growing up and preparing to enter college.
Such is the case for Nina, a girl who graduated high school with honors but is unable to go to college because she has neither citizenship nor the money to afford it.
Nina came to the United States when she was eight years old and is now waiting for legislation like the DREAM Act to be passed, which would allow her to go to school and eventually become a U.S. citizen.
As she waits, she has applied for deferred action, which would provide a two-year work permit and a Social Security Number, allowing her to get a driver’s license and go to school. She has been waiting to go to college for three years.
“I think it’s just coping and overcoming depression, because I’m here. I’m stuck, and I can’t do anything about it,” Nina said. “When I was in high school, my junior year, I wanted — I got so desperate — because I wanted a way in. But it seemed like every door was closed for me. It was really hard, because I just wanted a chance.”
Phil Kellerman, president of the Harvest of Hope Foundation, said Nina has about a 95 percent chance of being approved for deferred action. Still, though, she wouldn’t be able to afford school without in-state tuition.
Kellerman said Santa Fe College is currently reviewing her case.
“She is the face of this whole immigration morass,” he said. “A bright, young child brought here not of her own choosing, educated by the American public school system. Would do great in college, be a great employee.”
School is not Nina’s only major concern.
She must also cope with the fear that she and her parents might be deported. She said if immigration offices did deport her and her parents, her brother and sister would be kept in the United States.
“We’re scared mainly for my brother,” she said. “My sister’s older, but we’re scared mainly for him, because he’s very attached to us, especially my mom. With his condition — he’s autistic — it can be very harmful for him psychologically. And for us, you know, we wouldn’t know what to do without them.”
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States deported more than 400,000 people in 2012.
Leaders of labor and business groups met this weekend and agreed on an outline of a guest worker program that allows people who entered the country illegally to work in the U.S. without a visa, which would help improve the plight of those like Nina.
A bipartisan group of senators has been working on immigration legislation and hopes to have a draft of a bill finished by the end of next week.
Nina said the new program could be a major step toward immigration reform.
“All of us — a bunch of immigrants — want a status, but the government just needs to get with it,” she said. “There just needs to be a bill out there that can support everybody.”