A Dream with a Deadline

November 23, 2011

A Dream with a Deadline

As legislation to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented college students stalls in Congress, Luisa Argueta's future hangs in the balance.


as told to Sumit Galhotra

Like any California girl, I like going to the movies with my friends, window shopping, eating Mexican food and spending time with my family. I go to church every Sunday—okay, almost every Sunday. And like any 20-year-old, I have goals, including transferring to a four-year college to study oceanography or business. Unlike most people, however, my life is dictated by a deadline. The Department of Homeland Security has ordered me to leave the country by June 30, 2012.

I was four months old when my mother and I fled Guatemala. My mother had worked as a teacher there at a time when the political climate was turbulent. The government was withholding salaries from teachers, and guerillas pressured them to join in their fight. My mother did not want me to grow up in a violent environment, so she brought me to California.

For the past 20 years, California has been our home, where we live with my father and two younger sisters, who were born in the United States. My mother and I had applied for asylum, but in 2007 our application was denied on the grounds that we were unable to demonstrate “sufficient persecution” in Guatemala. Initially, some of my classmates were shocked to learn that I was being deported. Some of them asked what I had done wrong.

For a brief moment in 2001, I was hopeful that there would be a way to permanently and legally stay in the country that has been the only home I have known. That was the year that the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was introduced in Congress. Under its rigorous provisions, qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a six-year conditional path to legal residency that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service, among several requirements.

In December 2010, the House of Representatives passed the bill in a 216–198 vote, but the bill did not pass in the Senate. This dashed the hopes of more than 2.1 million minors in the United States who, lacking the basic human rights to family unity and dignity, now face deportation.

In the days after the vote, my mother filed for another extension. In March, our lawyers sent us a letter informing us that our extension was only valid for six months, and that on September 12, we would face immediate deportation. As this deadline inched closer, I didn't know how to feel. I was confused. Couldn't they see that we didn't do anything to deserve this? My family was here—my dad, my sisters. In my mind, I knew we just had to continue praying and hope it would turn out okay.

Our prayers were answered. Three days before the deadline, my attorney was notified that we had received another extension until June 30, 2012, the end of my school year. Although I am still anxious about whether we can find a way to stay permanently, I'm grateful that I can remain with my family, in my home, and finish up the school year.

The October passage of California's own DREAM Act allows undocumented immigrants to apply for state-funded and private scholarships and financial aid for higher education. I'm currently paying my way through college with little support, so this wonderful development will expand higher education opportunities for me and other students like me, and allow us to advance in today's workforce.

However, the California legislation does not provide a path to citizenship, and my deportation date still stands. With another deadline soon approaching, all I can do is focus on school. I want to prove that I really want to stay here and do well. My classmates are now supportive, because they have come to see that the people who are eligible for the DREAM Act are their neighbors, co-workers and maybe even friends—people who work hard in this country. My wish is for more people to imagine walking in our shoes, and to think about human lives that are being affected by U.S. immigration policy. I dare them to let us dream.

Take Action

Call Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (202-282-8495), and John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (202-732-3000), to urge them to allow Luisa Argueta (A#074-800-131) and Luisa's mother Brenda Gutierrez-Rubio (A#074-800-130) to stay in the United States. Write to your senators urging them to co-sponsor/vote for the DREAM Act (S. 952). Write to your representatives urging them to co-sponsor/vote for the DREAM Act (H.R. 1842).