Alina Cortes, 21, is an undocumented student who, like 40 percent of DREAMers, came to the U.S. on a work visa.
“I didn’t turn 5 and say, ‘Hey mom, let’s go to America illegally,’” Cortes said.
Her parents denied her a drivers license and a job when she came of age and she never understood why.
“I never knew what the deal was. I just lived my life here as an American in the U.S. — my home,” Cortes said.
She graduated in the top 5 percent of her senior class with the dream of attending Yale.
“I actually had full rides to Ivy Leagues, but I was undocumented.” Cortes said. “I kept thinking, there has to be a way.”
With graduation around the corner her senior year, she was mortified as to where her life was heading. She joined the vast majority of illegal immigrants suffering from depression because of unanswered questions and worries about the future.“I tell my friends I’m going “undocument-al” because I’m literally going nuts,” Cortes said.
At the age of 19, she turned to her lawyers who told her they couldn’t do anything but what she could do for herself. So she then turned to activism and joined forces with DREAM Act poster child Benny Veliz and created SUDA (Students United for the DREAM Act).
“I’m not scared anymore, I know the bill, I know my rights as an immigrant — as a human,” Cortes said.
“I go to high schools and leave my card for any student that’s undocumented and needs someone to talk to because no one was there to guide me. I grew up here all my life, so I know I belong here.
“So why don’t I feel like I belong here?”
Felipe Vargas is an Indiana University graduate, a youth organizer for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and director of the Campecine Youth Academy who speaks passionately about the DREAM Act.
“The role of undocumented youth has been to get our elected officials to act on the consensus of the community,” Vargas said.
“If the DREAM Act were to pass, there’d be a little bit more hope in the democratic process,” Vargas said, noting that 54 percent of people support the bill and 42 percent oppose it.
“There’s something about the way this selective morality works where some people matter and some people do not,” he said.
“Republicans, our mayor, Democrats, they don’t see the undocumented, interact with them, or care about them because they don’t vote, they don’t buy many things, and they don’t keep their money in banks — so why should they matter?
“At the end of the day, when it comes to the DREAM Act, the only reason it came to a vote is because youth risked their lives.
“In this day and age, people like my mother, and the students that I love and serve that come into contact with all of the food that we buy from H-E-B, work in the kitchens of all the restaurants, clean all of the hotels in this country, they just don’t matter.”
Pamela Resendiz came to the U.S. when she was 9 on a tourist visa with her parents and her sister.
Today, she is an undocumented student, UTSA graduate and intern at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“I knew we were coming here with the intent of staying here,” Resendiz said. “Since I was 6, (when the family was planning the move) it’s been engraved in my mind that talking about my status was something I should not discuss — I went into self-preservation mode.”
Resendiz grew up in Rockwell and was enrolled in gifted and talented classes where she was secluded from the small Latino community in the small, conservative town.
She was 14 when she started advocating for GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) rights. She also fought for immigration rights, but never revealed herself as an undocumented immigrant.
“I was always trained to say that I came here with a visa and that I had a green card,” Resendiz said.
While attending UTSA, she majored in political science and minored in Latin American studies with a concentration in pre-law. She created DREAM Act NOW, a group that organized the Washington hunger strike in November 2010.
“I feel as if the hunger strike became a nationwide narrative that fueled the movement, and even though it didn’t pass that year, we gained a lot of experience as organizers.
“The shift of our mentality from what we’re trained as children of not speaking out on our status dramatically changed. A lot of students came out nationwide,” Resendiz said. “We were speaking our truth and our story and not being on the back burner of politicians’ agendas.”
She’s not stopping anytime soon.
“I was in the Senate watching the vote for the DREAM Act in 2010 when it didn’t pass, and after that, they had the vote for the repealing of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” she said.
“That struggle lasted 17 years for our brothers and sisters who are queer in the military — so we know change takes time. I know it’s going to pass, even though it might take longer than it should.”
At age 14, Jesus Gomez embarked on a journey from border city Piedras Negras, Mexico, to America, the country he now calls home.
“We came to America because of a job for my dad,” Gomez said. “We all came to America legally.”
Soon after the move, Gomez enrolled at Harlandale High School and he quickly learned to speak English. As he turned 18, just before he entered his senior year, his visa expired, making him an undocumented student.
But he didn’t let that affect his senior year. He went on to walk the stage and was named a Co-MVP of District 57-4A in soccer as a forward.
Gomez said for the past year, he’s been worried about “getting caught and getting sent back to Mexico.”
“I don’t know what to do in Mexico. It’s going to be a different style of life, everything is going to be so different,” he said.
If he had it his way, he said he would stay in the United States and become a teacher. He said his English teacher, Najat Hema, knew about his status and encouraged him to perform at his highest level.
“The first thing she told me is that she believed in me,” Gomez said. “She knew about me and she taught me.”
Although Gomez is cautious in planning his future, he hopes to join the Navy, or possibly attend San Antonio College and transfer to Our Lady of the Lake University to play soccer.
“It’s not keeping me from living a regular life,” Gomez said. “I’m going to keep doing what I can do, get degrees and go as far as I can go. I would like to coach soccer and football.”
Gomez also shares this struggle with his two brothers, who attend a local high school and middle school. “I know the little one likes school. He’s smart, but if he wants to become something in life, the illegal status is going to stop him.”