Born in M‚xico and raised in the Bay Area, Mills sophomore Miriam Noriega intimately knows the evolving challenges facing immigrants of any legal status. Her understanding and passion for immigrant rights led her to intern for Bay Area
Immigrant Rights Coalition last spring.
Noriega volunteered at BAIRC after Professor D‚borah Santana sent an email on behalf of the coalition to her class.
“It was a good opportunity to work with my p eople,” said the 18-year-old, who spoke openly.
Noriega emigrated with her parents from Guadalajara when she was six months old. She said both her parents worked full-time, so she was raised mainly by her aunts in the Latino immigrant community.
“I identify with the undocumented community,” Noriega said. “We’re all trying to seek the ‘American Dream.”
That dream of security, higher education, and prosperity in the United States is now even harder to obtain for undocumented immigrants, or those without legal status.
According to Noriega though, this community is as integrated into the fabric of society as any other. Still, Latino immigrants do not have the same privileges.
“When you’re younger you don’t see it, you don’t realize social status until applying to college,” Noreiga said.
“[Undocumented immigrants] don’t qualify for any federal grants or loans, and a lot of other scholarships.”
Noriega said many in the immigrant community see their own hopes deflated by laws discriminating against undocumented youth in funding for education and types of jobs open to them.
Becoming legal is not an easy process. Illegal immigrants, no matter how long they have lived in the country, must apply for a visa and wait an indefinite number of years in legal limbo. Depending on their country of origin, the federal government could process applications that were filed up to two decades ago, according to Allison
Davenport, an immigration lawyer from Centro Legal de la Raza. Davenport spoke on the Immigration Rights Panel on Sept. 13.
“The government keeps putting walls up,”
Noriega said. “So people in the precarious space of being an immigrant-whether legal, illegal or somewhere in between- must put blinders on and keep moving forward.”
“I pray for the DREAM Act to pass,” she said.
DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is an act that has been introduced in different forms to the House and Senate several times since 2001, according to the National Immigration Law Center’s website.
The Act would grant a six year conditional permanent residency to children brought illegally before the age of 15. These children must also graduate from an American high school or earn a GED, live in the country for at least five years and maintain a clean criminal record.
After the six-year conditional period, permanent residency would be granted if the applicant completes a two-year community college program, two years toward a four-year degree, two years of military service or 910 hours of voluntary community service.
The National Immigration Law Center, with population studies conducted by the Urban Institute, estimated eligible immigrant students at about 65,000 as of 2002. The numbers grow each year.
While those stuck in the bureaucratic limbo of visa application and those who avoid the process wait for recognition under the law, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, continues its raids, detention and deportation of immigrants not guaranteed due process under the law.
The Bush regime created ICE in 2003, combining the former Immigration and Naturalization Service with the U.S. Customs Service to, according to the ICE government website, “more effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws and to protect the United States against terrorist attacks.”
The Web site says that “ICE does this by targeting illegal immigrants: the people, money and materials that support terrorism and other criminal activities.”
Noriega is one voice echoing the struggle of a large community in America trying to refute the label of “criminal.” She said she remains optimistic about her future and that of the immigrant community.
“All those negative experiences make us stronger, to appreciate our life even more.”