For Undocumented Graduates: A Dream Deferred

by Published on
Photo by Jen Reel
Daniel Candelaria, Loren Campos and another Dream Act student

This week thousands of University of Texas students are graduating and looking forward to pursuing their careers. Among them are graduates who see nothing but obstacles ahead. On Thursday, more than 40 UT Dream Act students and their supporters held a protest on the UT campus to implore President Obama to grant executive relief from deportation for undocumented students.

The students held signs that read “I have the right to live my life without fear” and  “stop tearing families apart” and chanted “Up up with education, down down with deportation” in front of several TV cameras. The protest was part of a nationwide effort to draw attention to the plight of undocumented students who are graduating this month but can’t advance their careers because they lack social security numbers.

Loren Campos, 23, graduated last year from UT Austin but can’t work because he is undocumented. Campos came to the United States as a young boy, after his mother fled domestic abuse in Mexico.

Campos took Advanced Placement courses in high school and graduated at the top of his high school class. Despite Campos’ good grades, school counselors told him he couldn’t attend university because of his immigration status. Campos said he didn’t give up, however, and ultimately enrolled in UT Austin. He graduated with a civil engineering degree in 2011.

“As a child I didn’t understand the implications of my immigration status,” he says. “I always thought if I worked hard enough I could get ahead.”

Daniel Candelaria, 23, stood in the hot sun in the black cap and gown he’ll wear tomorrow for his graduation and addressed the crowd and the cameras. Candelaria will receive a diploma in social studies. His dream is to teach high school. Because he’s undocumented, he likely can’t fulfill his goal, he says. “I can’t work, travel or ever have a driver’s license,” he says.

Candelaria is the only member in his family who is undocumented. His mother married a U.S. citizen and applied for citizenship for her children. Candelaria turned 18 before the paperwork was processed so he had to apply again as an adult. The paperwork was filed in 2009. U.S. immigration officials just started processing requests from 1994. “It could be 15 or 16 years before they get to me,” he says.

Next to take the microphone was Edilsa Lopez who was orphaned in Guatemala as a child and brought to the United States by smugglers. Despite the hardships of her childhood, she graduated high school in Houston and will graduate from UT Austin tomorrow with majors in international relations, economics and business administration. “I would like to see my siblings in Guatemala someday, but I can’t because of my immigration status,” Lopez said breaking into tears. Afterwards she told me “Right now I’m happy, but I’m also upset because it’s taken so much to get to this day. It’s not been easy, but I’ve always thought that obstacles are not there to impede us but to be overcome.”

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.