Advocating for Undocumented Immigrant Youth
Pablo S., 20, is a sophomore at Portland State University Honors College, double majoring in jazz vocal performance and communications studies. Pablo shares his experiences and his passion for advocating to improve access to education for undocumented immigrant youth.
What's your passion and why?
Advocating for access to higher education for undocumented and underrepresented youth is my passion. I was born in a different country (Mexico) and came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant when I was 10 years old. Although I graduated from high school in the top 5 percent of my class and was heavily involved in leadership roles, I could not attend a university in the United States right away because I could not afford it. Because of my undocumented status, I could not access many forms of financial aid.
How do you advocate for undocumented youth?
After receiving several highly competitive private scholarships, I was able to attend college. During my first year, I became involved in Open Meadow, a wonderful program in Portland, Oregon, that specializes in helping low income and inner city youth reach their academic and professional goals. Through Open Meadow, I was able to work with the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC), and through NYEC, I was given the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C., to represent Oregon students nationally. While in D.C., I spoke personally with Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and stressed the importance of passing the DREAM Act, which would allow bright students who simply do not have a Social Security number to be on a path to citizenship and achieve their educational goals. In addition, I spoke at the Oregon state capital and became involved with several nonprofit organizations in Oregon that fight for the rights of undocumented youth.
During college, I decided to combine my passion for the performing arts with my passion for social justice. I auditioned for a wonderful theatre company named Milagro (The Miracle Theatre Group). The theatre company was writing an original play titled “Jardin de Sueños” (The Garden of Dreams) that would creatively display the experiences that undocumented youth face when they turn 18 years old and suddenly have no access to driver’s licenses/state IDs, no admission to universities, and no financial assistance from the government. These are just some of the things that an undocumented young adult cannot get. In the play, I was cast as one of the lead characters. Through this animated and vibrant play filled with fictional folk stories of talking trees and wise animals, we were able to, night after night, share and start conversations about this taboo subject with any audience member that came to the theatre.
What's your plan for the future?
Being an advocate for this issue has definitely made an impact on my life. Most importantly though, I am reminded that the battle is not over. Just over one year ago, the president of the United States passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is a wonderful, renewable, two-year work authorization permit that allows young adults who arrive here as infants to work in the United States when they get older. DACA, however, does not grant any kind of long-term security because it is not a path to citizenship. Additionally, there is still no financial assistance for individuals that want to pursue higher education. Thus, there is still plenty of work to be done, and I plan to continue advocating!