According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of 2014, there were 11.4 undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
According to an In Focus study done by Roberto Gonzales, in 2005 there was an estimated 50,000 undocumented young adults who entered college.
There are no federal laws in place that bar undocumented immigrants from attending U.S. colleges or universities. However, there are countless hurdles that must be jumped to attain what’s often seen as an essential component to having a successful life.
Maria Jose Jaramillo, a graduate student in Springfield College’s Social Work Master’s Program has been no stranger to these hurdles, and chose to share her experience.
Jaramillo and her family left Ecuador, a South American country, in December of 2000. At that time, she was just 5 years old. According to Encyclopedia of the Nations, in that year, more than half of all Ecuadorians were living in poverty.
Jaramillo explained, “My parents came to the United States for a better future, since Ecuador is a developing country our family struggled financially. My parents knew that if we moved to the United States, we would be given opportunities to succeed.”
However, despite the move, Jaramillo’s family was unable to find concrete financial security. With the ever-changing economy, finding stable, well-paying jobs was often beyond grasp.
Of her parents, she said, “For a while we were doing okay, but when the economy would go down… they struggled to find other jobs, due to their legal status in America. They would get desperate to the point [of taking] on any job that paid the bills.”
Then, in March of 2013, Jaramillo’s father passed away. Her mother remarried, but work was still difficult to find. This led them to moving often, going wherever there’d be the potential of making a decent living.
Georgia had been a mainstay for several years, but fears of being deported led the family, now numbering six with the addition of two new siblings, to move to California. Then, in need of work, the family uprooted themselves once again to move to Connecticut.
Several more moves occurred after that. Jaramillo recounted the impact that these moves had on her, saying, “I had a hard time adjusting to a new school, peers, and succeeding in school.”
Despite all of this, Jaramillo had a natural love for learning. She detailed how she would work hard to be moved into upper level classes, always finding the lower level classes too easy.
“Being challenged made me feel rewarded, so when I wasn’t receiving that I would talk to my counselor, my teachers, and the principle to convince them that I could take the honor classes,” she said. She was able to exceed expectations. However, with each move she’d find herself in the same position of having something to prove.
She explained how she’d always be put into an ESL (English as a Second Language) class, despite being proficient in English. Each time she’d have to take tests to prove her proficiency, which proved to be frustrating. Nonetheless, she passed.
Jaramillo has been attending Springfield College with the hopes of becoming a social worker who works with at-risk youth and families. She said that she’s always been interested in family dynamics, and feels that the effort to solve community issues must start in homes.
When she was 16, due to an incident of physical assault that happened in California while she was walking home from school, Jaramillo and her mother were able to apply for a visa. She recently was in the process of applying for permanent residency, but a mix-up at the organization she was applying through caused her application to be denied.
Due to this, Jaramillo lost her work permit, health insurance, and access to financial aid. The dream her parents came to America with now finds itself in danger. Currently, she is waiting for her application to go through the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service).
According to NBC News, there are nearly 730,000 pending applications that are backlogged at the USCIS, an 87% increase since 2015. In the meantime, Jaramillo is attempting to finish her last semester here at the College and earn her MSW degree.
Jaramillo’s story mirrors that of many undocumented immigrants who have arrived in the United States. The desire is always for a better life, but the path towards that doesn’t end once they’ve reached the border.
Once they arrive here, there always seem to be something standing in the way, whether it be job insecurity, lack of access to needed social services, or having to start all over on the quest for citizenship.
The process for obtaining legal residency in the States is a long and complicated one, according to Business Insider. There are different requirements that can be met, and none of them are simple.
They include, but are not limited to: having an immediate family member already living legally in the U.S., being of exceptional talent (like a Nobel laureate), or already having an employer lined up that is willing to sponsor you, all throughout the long, drawn out process.
In addition to this, the cost can be extraordinary. Jaramillo herself has needed to hire a lawyer to help her through her own process, costing her $5,000.
Jaramillo agreed that her story is one of many. “I personally know many immigrants and the current struggles they face in their own countries,” she said.
She cited the violence that people seek to escape from Mexico, where the Mafia and cartel wield more power than the police. She cited the poverty of places like her own home country of Ecuador, where families are forced to live on a salary of $100 a week.
Jaramillo added, “I know it’s difficult to be empathetic or compassionate to immigrants… because people don’t experience what [they] experience. But I want people to know that immigrants don’t come to America to steal jobs. They come to America to escape their unfortunate reality.”
The jobs that immigrants do end up taking are often the ones that Americans would rather not do. They are low-paying and demand hard labor. According to CBS news, they are jobs like farm work and construction. All this, Jaramillo said, “just to provide the bare minimum for their family.”
When asked about the current climate surrounding the topic of immigration, Jaramillo admitted feeling disheartened. “After seeing how much President Trump’s new administration has affected immigrant families, and seeing what he is capable of doing to get immigrants to stop coming to the U.S., I am not confident that immigrants are safe in this country,” she said.
Yet, she added that young people are starting to take notice of inequality, and are looking to take more active roles in solving current issues. This, she said, makes her hopeful that better immigration policies will soon come into place. To Jaramillo, those types of policies would create “opportunities and freedom.”
Photo courtesy of Kathleen Morris