Undocumented students share stories with Sen. Durbin at ECC
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org August 28, 2012 9:42PM
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain listens to student Tzolkin Gonzales talk about the Dream Act with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and others Tuesday at Elgin Community College. August 28, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 30, 2012 6:14AM
ELGIN — Tzolkin Gonzales of Carpentersville has lived her “whole life” in the United States, she said.
Her family had emigrated from Mexico in 1992 when she was 3 “to make a better future for us,” Gonzales said. She finished her associate’s degree in 2011 and initially was accepted into the nursing program at Elgin Community College.
But then, she said, “I actually lost my spot because I was undocumented.”
Gonzales is one of four Elgin Community College students whom U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D—Ill., invited to share their stories Tuesday afternoon at the college’s Renner Academic Library and Resources, 1700 Spartan Drive.
All had been brought to the United States as children for safety or education or their future, they said. And all now plan to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The senator also tasked Elgin Community College President David Sam with getting information about applying for deferred action out to young, undocumented students and residents in the Elgin area.
“Most people have a warm place in their hearts for the land of their parents and grandparents, but they’re proud to be Americans,” said Durbin, whose own mother had emigrated from Lithuania when she was 2.
“I want to give them the same opportunities.”
DACA, announced in June by President Barack Obama, defers for two years deportation proceedings against young immigrants brought to the United States as children.
It was modeled after the DREAM Act, which Durbin authored 11 years ago and since has been filibustered in the U.S. Senate and stalled after passing the House of Representatives.
Deferred action allows those who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are still under age 30 to stay in the U.S. and to apply for documentation that will allow them to work legally. They must have earned a high school diploma or GED, served in the military, and they must have no criminal record.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications to the program Aug. 15.
That day, about 12,000 people lined Navy Pier in Chicago for a workshop with immigration lawyers and certified staff on hand to counsel would-be applicants by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Only about 2,000 of their DACA applications were processed, Durbin said, and many of the young people turned away had been from Elgin. That’s why the senator said it was important to offer a similar workshop in the area.
Sam said the community college will “jump on it.” The college will be in contact soon with Centro de Informacion, a nonprofit based in Elgin, to organize an event on its campus as soon as it can get word out about it, he said.
Maria Torres, 24, of Carpentersville said, “From my own experience with other undocumented students, I have found ECC is one of the most welcoming.”
Torres, who volunteered at the Navy Pier workshop, said her parents immigrated to the country from Mexico when she was 15 to get a better education for their children. She enrolled at Northern Illinois University after graduating from Elgin Community College in 2009 and wants to become a community organizer, she said.
‘Ray of hope’
Gerardo Medrano, 20, of Streamwood said he already has submitted his application for deferred action with help from Centro de Informacion. The civil engineering student’s family had left Mexico when he was 14, he said.
“It’s exciting. It’s just the beginning,” Medrano said.
Alejandro Molina Hoyos, 18, of Pingree Grove, whose family emigrated from Colombia when he was 5, called it a “ray of hope.”
And, immigration attorney Kalman Resnik said, it’s a pretty simple application.
Unfortunately, Resnik said, immigration law is anything but simple. That’s why the attorney, who had accompanied Durbin to Elgin, said it was important for young people to seek advice from a nonprofit or trusted lawyer before applying for DACA.
He also offered to come back for the workshop at Elgin Community College.
“I hope it’s going to change the lives for many students just like me,” Medrano said.