This is the second in a two-part series based on Tim’s conversation with Ricardo. Part one was featured on our blog Wednesday.
Ricardo, 20, is an undocumented college student living in Phoenix. He recently spoke with advocacy journalist Tim Høiland about his journey from Mexico to the United States, the painful realities of being undocumented in Arizona, and why he is hopeful for the future.
Tim: I recently saw that in the exit polls for the presidential primary here in Arizona 63% of Republican voters favor allowing undocumented people to be able to apply for citizenship or be allowed to stay as temporary workers. Only 37% favor deportation. Those numbers surprised me. Do you see sentiment changing in this state?
Ricardo: I think sentiment is changing. Just look at years past. There are more Latinos registered to vote. Russell Pierce, the author of SB 1070, has been recalled. There are still a lot of anti-immigrant folks in office, but things are starting to change. I think it’s because people are hearing the stories and are realizing the urgency of fixing the broken system. Arizona is the head of the spear, the head of the brokenness. I also believe that the boycott of the state hurt our pockets, so those numbers are representing that. People are realizing if we don’t jump on it, we’re going to fall behind. I’m kind of surprised by those numbers, but I think we’re seeing the change, little by little.
Tim: You’ve been involved in various kinds of activism since you were a teenager. Talk a bit about that, and then about what you’re involved with now.
Ricardo: I got involved with an immigration reform campaign in 2009, and around that time we started hearing about SB1070, so we formed Promise Arizona. When I started organizing with Promise Arizona, we thought registering Latino voters would be important. The first summer, we registered 13,000 new voters, and with other groups combined, 17,000 were registered. This was all happening in the community, at the grassroots level, and that was very important for us. We had a hand in recalling Russell Pierce, and in 2012 we’re working on getting more Latinos registered to vote. There are 350,000 Latino citizens here who aren’t registered to vote, so this summer will be huge for us. We want to expand our work, to develop young leaders, and give the community something to work for, to achieve and to be proud of.
I also started an internship with Neighborhood Ministries, which was not political, but a faith-based group working with youth in the community, bringing the word of God to them. They offered me a scholarship to allow me to go to school and they have impacted my life in so many ways. I see so many youth and kids going through the same things I did. It’s always a different story, but always the same impact. Being at Neighborhood I’ve seen a huge change in my life and in the community. My faith and my love for God is growing, and I put that ahead of everything else. Working with Promise Arizona and Neighborhood I’m able to do that, I think.
Tim: The DREAM Act won’t resolve every immigration problem, but it would make a big difference for people like you. Talk a bit about its importance.
Ricardo: Ultimately what we want is a process that would allow folks in my situation to be able to have a path to citizenship – not automatic citizenship, but a path. We care about this country and want to be part of it. The DREAM Act won’t resolve the whole deal, but it’s a stepping stone, a base we can build on for undocumented youth for our future. We’re talking about straight A students, folks who want to serve in the military – I don’t know how much more American that can be. We’re busting our butts the whole time to do our best, to serve our community, to be part of society. I think it’s real important to keep pushing. We were really, really close to passing it last time, and with this election coming up, I think we can put it in the candidates’ heads, and really support it. It will help the country economically. How many kids can say they have a 4.0 GPA? Not a lot of kids. In the undocumented community, a ton of kids can say that, but unfortunately they can’t come out of the shadows, and they can’t go to the good universities. I really have faith, and am really excited about those involved in the movement, and what God is doing in our lives.
Keeping up the pressure to push for the DREAM Act is so important, so we need to keep pushing for it in Arizona and other states. Ultimately, my dream is to have the whole cookie – comprehensive immigration reform so that my parents have all these opportunities too. But the DREAM Act is a stepping stone towards that. We need to keep pushing, not backing down even a little bit, keep calling our representatives. And then whoever wins the election this fall, we’ve got to really show that our country needs the DREAM Act.
Tim Høiland is an advocacy journalist and communications specialist based in Phoenix, Arizona. In his writing he has explored the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace in Latin America and the United States. As a child, Høiland lived in Guatemala with dual US-Guatemalan citizenship.
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