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At the University library Alan Pogue opinion.” Asylum is extended to refugees who make it to a “safe country” on their own. The INS administers asylum in the U.S. At PAPA, a team of volunteersattorneys, paralegals, humanrights documenters, translators, academics, social workersworked with Luis to prepare his application for asylum. “The most difficult part of any asylum case is corroborating the persecution claim with personal documentation,” says Nidia Salamanca, the PAPA coordinator. “We were lucky in Luis’ casethere existed solid documentary evidence, and we were able to retrieve it from Guatemala.” Before he left Guatemala, Luis had enough foresight to maintain a file of his tribulations, including the death-threat notes and newspaper articles on his abduction. The file was hidden in a drawer in Guatemala City. And when Nidia Salamanca heard that a PAPA volunteer, a University of Texas professor named Patricia Wilson, was going to Guatemala for a conference, she arranged for Wilson to obtain the file from Luis’s family. It was the documentary proof of persecution that very few applicants forced to flee their country and seek asylum can ever present to an immigration judge in this country. With the documentation safely in hand, and backed by voluminous supporting materials chronicling the persecution of student protesters in Guatemala, Luis went to court in San Antonio in September 1992 to convince an immigration judge that he met the criteria for winning political asylum. His chances were not great. The United States government, after all, grants foreign aid to Guatemala; it could be seen as embarrassing, then, for the United States to offer safe haven to citizens of a repressive country whose leadership it sanctions. Of the 12,234 applications for asylum filed by Guatemalans the previous year, 1991, only fifty-eight were granted. But Luis had an exceptional case and he made an excellent witness. Judge Bernabe Q. Maldonado noted that he testified in a NOVEMBER 8, 1996 “candid, straightforward manner,” and credited Luis with i giving a “believable, consistent, plausible account” of his student activism and subse quent kidnapping in Guatemala City. On Septem ber 15, 1992, Judge Maldonado granted Luis Yax-Patzan political asylum. The following spring, Luis graduated from Johnston High and went to work as a playground supervisor for the city of Austin. This fall, after two years of study, including computer science and pre-med courses at Austin Community College, Luis is again taking courses at ACCand the University of Texas, where he is also employed as an instructor in the University Computation Center. All of his course work has been in English. The instructions he wrote for an “interactive multimedia unit” for a psychology class at ACC remind the user to “check the sagital plane of an MRI of the human brain.” Luis is almost serene when he describes his ordeal. He is an astonishingly composed 22-year-old. But then again, someone who has survived a disappearance, death threats, and a dangerous journey to the United States is apt to be someone who has little difficulty with a reporter’s queries. He plans to complete a few courses at the community college, continue his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas, and then go on to medical school. He is driven, he says, to get his medical degree in the states, and then, circumstances permitting, to return to Guatemala. “I’m going back home for sure,” he says. Luis’ story provides a window into the reality behind the emotional rhetoric of the immigration debate raging in this country. He arrived indigent and alone in the world, pulled himself up through education, and has done remarkably well here, thrived even. In so many ways, his is a classic immigrant success story, a story of brains, energy, and determination. Rabidly opportunistic politicians, themselves descended from immigrants, scapegoat today’s immigrants, blaming them for an assortment of the nation’s social ills: from crime waves to unemployment to overburdened schools to skyrocketing welfare spending. The demagogues’ sound-bite solutions include building a border-long fence and passing a federal version of Proposition 187, the 1994 California initiative that would deny government services, including public education, to the children of illegal immigrants, \(Key portions of the proposition have since been struck See “Guatemala,” page 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER it 11