Skip to comments.Illegal valedictorian: Immigrant status stunts former University High grad's dreams (Texas)
Posted on 07/26/2010 2:04:13 PM PDT by LA Woman3
Grecia Cantu gazed into the faces of her classmates on a day last June and stifled an urge to cry.
As thousands watched at the Heart O Texas Coliseum, the 2009 valedictorian of University High School found her voice cracking anyway as she thanked her teachers and urged her classmates to reach for what seemed unreachable.
Grecia, 19, agreed to be identified in this story knowing the visibility could raise her risk of deportation. She used another surname for this story to protect her parents identities.
Grecia Cantu said she considers herself an American and wants to find a way to become a legalized citizen. She has lived here since she was 7 years old. Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-HeraldGrecias own dreams then seemed within her grasp.
She had math smarts, a love of books and a flair for the stage. She had received a presidential scholarship to go to Baylor University.
I was going to go to Baylor, become a teacher and settle down here, she said. I didnt want to leave Waco.
That summer her dream crashed into reality. She found out she could not afford Baylor. The main reason was that she is an illegal immigrant.
She came here as a 7-year-old with her parents from Monterrey, Mexico, a city that is now a fading memory.
She had mastered English and considered herself an American. But there was no way, short of an act of Congress, to get legal status.
That meant she couldnt get a drivers license or a Social Security number. She couldnt get a job. She could attend college in Texas with in-state tuition, but she couldnt get federal financial aid or a student loan.
And without them, she could not attend Baylor.
Its a great school and it has the best school of education, she said. But whats the point of going through Baylor and getting in debt, when in the end I cant work?
Now entering her second year at McLennan Community College, she is determined to continue her education, but her path after that depends on decisions made in Washington, D.C.
In the meantime, she has joined the growing ranks of second-generation illegal immigrants who are going public about their struggles in hopes the system will change.
If God wants me to go back to Mexico, hell take me by any means necessary, said Grecia, whose friends call her Gracie.
President Barack Obama has advocated comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to legalization for many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Such a proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress.
Meanwhile, a narrower bill targeted at young adults like Grecia, who were brought to this country as minors, has been introduced in Congress many times since 2001, but has never come to a vote.
The most recent DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) bill, introduced in the House in 2009, would grant conditional legal status to qualifying immigrants under age 35 who entered the U.S. before age 16 and have been continuously present here for five years. The immigrants must have a high school diploma or GED to apply.
Applicants could receive permanent residency after six years if they obtain a college degree or two years of a four-year college, or if they serve in the military. They must maintain good moral character and not commit any major crimes.
U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, said he supports the aims of the DREAM Act but doubts it could pass as a stand-alone bill.
He said he prefers comprehensive immigration reform, including strong border security, enforcement of the ban on hiring illegal immigrants and a chance for illegal immigrants of all ages to apply for residency if they meet certain requirements such as paying taxes and speaking English.
He thinks such a bill could come to the House as early as December, and that would open opportunities to young people such as Grecia.
I think most Americans would agree with the principle that you dont punish children for the decisions or mistakes of their parents, he said.
Edwards Republican opponent in the November election, Bill Flores, disagrees with the goals of the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act, by including a path to legalization, is asking the American people to accept amnesty and forgive lawbreaking before the federal government will even adequately secure our border, he said. I am opposed to the DREAM Act because we cannot be a nation of laws that rewards lawbreakers.
Grecia remembers the day in July 2000 she learned her parents were moving the family to Waco.
Mom came to the house and said, Were going to Waco, she recalls. I thought, Cool. We had visited there many times over the summer to see family there. In my innocence, I didnt understand we were staying.
Then her parents began selling everything: the taqueria and ice cream parlor they owned, the house and all its contents. They even sold Grecias stuffed Minnie Mouse, her Barbies and books.
Ive always liked to read, so that hurt my heart, she said. As we were emptying the house, I found a Barbie that hadnt been sold off. It was the ugliest one I had, but I never got rid of it.
Grecias mother said that because her father, Grecias grandfather, was a citizen, the family moved here thinking they could be legalized quickly.
The family overstayed the visa, and the parents applied for permanent residency in April 2001.
The parents, both college-educated, wanted to get their children enrolled in American schools before they got any older.
The idea was for them to come here to learn English, the mother said.
Grecia quickly learned English and moved up through Waco public schools. She never thought of herself as an illegal immigrant. In fact, she barely thought about her immigration status at all until she was applying for college.
By then, the familys possibilities of becoming legalized had dwindled. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, threw a wrench in the legal immigration process and led to a long backlog of applications.
Grecias mother has been told that her case will likely take 13 years, meaning they will be illegal until 2014.
Time running out
Grecias grandfather is now 83 years old, and if he dies before the case is closed, the family loses any hope of legalization. Grecia will only be eligible for family-based immigration until she is 21 two years from now.
Susan Nelson, a Waco immigration attorney whom the family has consulted, said Grecias dilemma is common.
A lot of kids I see who are caught and would benefit from the DREAM act are from families that have had petitions on file a long time, Nelson said. A large majority have a petition waiting for them, but theyre going to age out before they can benefit. Its a really long line, and its hard for families to know when their turn is going to be.
She said one wrong move could get a young illegal immigrant deported to a country they dont know.
Were already deporting people who dont have any ties to their home countries, she said.
Grecia sailed through high school with As and participated in a dozen plays, some as an actress and one as co-director. She was also an editor of the school yearbook.
Shes by far one of the brightest students Ive ever worked with, and shes become a good friend of mine, said Kendra Willeby, who was Grecias drama teacher at University High School and now is in graduate school in Houston. Shes brilliant, and shes well-rounded, equally bright in math and science, and a beauty on the stage. She has a maturity beyond her years.
Grecia had no trouble getting into Baylor. She was accepted in November 2008.
I called everyone and told them how now I was going to be a Baylor Bear, she said.
Willeby and others at University High guided her through the financial aid forms and thought she could afford it. She won the $4,000-per-semester Baylor presidential scholarship and two local scholarships.
She put down her deposit and went to the universitys orientation that spring.
But Grecia learned in July 2009 that Baylor did not participate in the state of Texas valedictorian scholarship program, which covers tuition at many universities.
And without federal grants or loans to fall back on, she couldnt afford the $14,000 a year she would owe at Baylor, Grecia said.
Baylor officials wouldnt comment on her case, but said they dont base admission or merit scholarships on legal status. Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said undocumented students have access to state aid but not federal aid, and Baylor cant control that.
Baylor has worked very diligently and deliberately to remove hurdles that would create any additional burdens for these students, Fogleman said.
Willeby said she regrets that she could not help Grecia fulfill her Baylor dreams.
Baylors not at fault, she said. They gave her a presidential scholarship. Its the way the system is.
Grecia said MCC is less challenging than Baylor, but she intends to earn her four-year degree there and then try to become a manager or start her own business.
Grecia said shes frustrated that she cant get a drivers license or a job.
I need a job to make myself feel better, she said. I feel like such a burden to my parents. At least I should be able to pay for gas.
She said she cant imagine going back to Mexico as an option.
Grecia planned to attend Baylor University before she ran into problems. Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-HeraldThe U.S. is my life, she said. I cant go back. I feel like Im an American. I love my Mexican heritage and culture. Its beautiful. But I dont know anything but Waco and the U.S. I dont have pride in being Mexican. This is home.
She doesnt blame her parents for her predicament.
It was all about me and my brothers, she said. They gave up everything for us so we could have a better future. They didnt think about how difficult it would be for us in the long run.
Her brothers, incoming seniors at different Waco high schools, said they intend to go to college and hope for the best. One wants to attend MCC and become a Waco police officer.
The other expects to graduate at the top of his class, attend Texas State University and teach at the high school or college level.
I plan on studying until I get a doctorate, the 16-year-old said. I think by then the law will change. If I can do it, it will be a slap in the face of the government, because theyre trying to make our lives as hard as it can be.
He said he understands why people are opposed to illegal immigration.
Theyre right, he said. Its the law that youre not supposed to cross into the U.S. without permission. Theyre right were here illegally. Were breaking the law on a daily basis. But theres not much we (the children) can do about it. Its not like I can get on a bus and go to Mexico.
Willeby said she thinks Grecia and her brothers will succeed because they are determined.
I dont think you could call anything about Gracie a tragedy, Willeby said. Shes made the best of it. Gracie is going to be phenomenal at whatever she does. In her quiet and strong way shes going to fight to make the system better.
...she’s one in a thousand...the other 999 are drop outs getting drunk and gang banging.
I have would recommend that the enlistment laws be changed so that a person
- of 18 or 19 years,
- who has lived in the US for the past 4 years,
- who has graduated from a US high school
- who speaks, read and writes English
- who is willing to serve for 4 years in the military
Can earn their US citizenship after either their honorable discharge or their reenlistment.
There is already a process in place for that.
OH! OH! you want to buck the line?
Tough toenails, there are a LOT of people who are doing it the proper way. You've already had 19 years to get in line, sorry your parents are so selfess.
made the best of it?
She got a good education at our expense.
she is illegal
needs to go back
take the rest of her family with her
I get sick of the boo hoo stories
DON’t BREAK THE LAW and you won’t have these stories to write about
“The U.S. is my life, she said. I cant go back. I feel like Im an American. I love my Mexican heritage and culture. Its beautiful. But I dont know anything but Waco and the U.S. I dont have pride in being Mexican. This is home. “
You can make it your life after you go back to the nation you are a citizen of, and go through the process legally.
Apparently for a supposed top student, you aren’t all that bright.
Not satisfied to simply mock the American citizens, this person mocks God as well.
Cry me a river.
Booo effen hoooo. Cry me a river and then go back to where you come from. If you love this country so much then come back legally. We don’t like law breakers in this country. If you were a real American you would feel the same way.
They are selfish, not selfless.
Yes, they need to get back in line.
I had to wait a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time for my immigration story to be completed.
The story is 100% BS.
She can legalize via the rolling amnesty. She and her parents have been here for ten years + .
I suspect she wants a free pass not an application.
This is the scummy stunt that deserves deportation.
She ought to find herself a nice young Texas cattleman and get married!;)
Thanks, I saw that as I hit post.
I’d agree if the 4 years here was legal. Otherwise you are enlisting criminals.
I don't care.
I don't care.
I don't know how many ways it takes to illustrate that I don't care.
She is NOT an American citizen, she gained what she gained through illegal subterfuge, at the expense of others and she needs to go to the back of the line.
And that's the way it is.
A Test To Determine If DREAM Amnesty Sponsors Are Serious About Helping Illegal Teens, Or Do They Just Want To Hurt Americans?
PRACTICAL QUESTION NO. 1: Are you willing to eliminate Chain Migration categories created in the late 1950s that allow anchor immigrants to bring in adult relatives other than a spouse? If you are not, the amnestied young adults will be able to bring in their parents, older siblings and eventually leading to even aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom were guilty of breaking our laws and putting the illegal-alien teens in their current condition in the first place.
PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION NO. 2: Are you willing to ensure that the DREAM Amnesty does not cause a new rush on the border (and of visa overstays) of people encouraged by the fact that breaking immigration laws truly does get rewarded?
PRACTICAL QUESTION NO. 2: (a) Are you willing to tie the DREAM Amnesty to a mandatory E-Verify system for every employee in every job? (b) Will you also include a notification process for multiple workers using the same Social Security number in order to root out identity theft? (c) And will you delay the permanent implementation of the DREAM Amnesty until the U.S Visit system is fully in place at all points of entry so that everybody crossing our borders can check in and check out and be known by our national computer system if they fail to check out on time? (d) And are you willing to have the E-Verify system used to confirm legal status before distributing taxpayer benefits in the future?
The law already allows for legals. As for legals, minors are not hear of their own volition.
Look like there are plenty of Universities in Mexico
Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) (founded in 1936)
Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (founded 1587)
Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (UMSNH), Morelia, Michoacán (founded 1540)
Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas (UNICACH), Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas
Universidad de Colima (UCOL), Colima, Colima (founded 1940)
Universidad de Guanajuato (founded 1732)
Universidad de Quintana Roo (founded 1991)
Universidad de Sonora (Unison), Hermosillo, Sonora (founded 1942)
Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco, () (founded 1791)
Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango
Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco, Villahermosa (founded 1958)
Universidad Pedagógica Nacional
Universidad Popular de la Chontalpa (founded 1995)
Universidad Tecnológica de la Mixteca (UTM), Huajuapan, Oaxaca
Universidad Veracruzana (founded 1944)
Centro de Enseñanza Técnica Industrial (CETI), Guadalajara, Jalisco, ()
Centro de Investigación Cientifica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE), Ensenada, Baja California
Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste (Cibnor), La Paz, Baja California Sur
Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, Toluca, State of Mexico
Universidad del Mar
 Technological Institutes
Instituto Tecnológico de Aguascalientes
Instituto Tecnológico de Acapulco, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Chetumal, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Chetumal, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Ciudad Juárez, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.
Instituto Tecnológico de Ciudad Madero, (ITCM) () Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas
Instituto Tecnológico de Chihuahua, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Culiacán, Culiacán, Sinaloa, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Durango (ITD), Durango, Durango
Instituto Tecnológico de Ensenada (ITE), Ensenada, Baja California, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Hermosillo (ITH), Hermosillo, Sonora, ()
Instituto Tecnologico de La Piedad, La Piedad, Michoacán, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Mexicali (ITM), Mexicali, Baja California, ()
Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), Monterrey, Nuevo León, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Morelia (ITM), Morelia, Michoacán, ()
Instituto Tencológico de Oaxaca (ITO), Oaxaca, Oaxaca
Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Puerto PenascoITSPP
Instituto Tecnológico de Querétaro (ITQ), Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Saltillo, Saltillo, Coahuila
Instituto Tecnológico de Tepic (ITT), Tepic, Nayarit, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana (ITT), Tijuana, Baja California,()
Instituto Tecnológico de Toluca, Toluca, México, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Tuxtepec, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Veracruz, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Villahermosa, (Villahermosa, Tabasco)
Instituto Tecnológico de Zacatepec, ()
Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca, (ITVO)
Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Cajeme, ()
Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Ciudad Constitución (ITSCC), Ciudad Constitución, B. C. S.
Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Zacapoaxtla (ITSZ), (Zacapoaxtla, Puebla)
Instituto Tecnológico Superior Zacatecas Occidente, (
Instituto Tecnológico Superior del Sur de Guanajuato
Universidad Autónoma Chapingo
Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (UAA)
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur
Universidad Autónoma de Campeche
Universidad Autónoma del Carmen
Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México
Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas (UNACH)
Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua
Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro (UAAAN), ()
Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca
Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila
Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, ()
Universidad Autónoma de Colima
Universidad Autónoma de Durango, ()
Universidad Autónoma de Guanajuato
Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero
Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit
Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León
Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ), 
Universidad Autónoma de Quintana Roo
Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí
Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa
Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas
Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala
Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY)
Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas
Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo
Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (UAEM)
Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana
Universidad Autonoma de Veracruz, ()
Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
 Research Center
Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV)
Centro de Investigacion Cientifica y de Educacion Superior de Ensenada, CICESE, ()
Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE), ()
El Colegio de México (Colmex)
El Colegio de la Frontera Norte
Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior (CETYS)
Centro de Estudios Universitarios Xochicalco, CEUX, ()
Centro Universitario México, División de Estudios Superiores (now Universidad Marista)
Centro Universitario Grupo Sol
Centro Universitario Grupo Sol Campus Cuauhtemoc located on Avenida Cuauhtemoc Col Doctores in Mexico CityInstituto de Estudios Superiores de Tamaulipas (IEST), Tampico, Tamaulipas
Escuela Libre de Derecho
Seminario Teológico Juan Calvino, Mexico City
Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG), Guadalajara, Jalisco), ()
Universidad Anáhuac del Sur / Universidad Anáhuac del Norte
Universidad Casa Blanca, htt://www.ucb.edu.mx
Universidad Cristobal Colon
Universidad Anáhuac, 
Universidad de las Americas, A.C., Mexico City
Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Puebla
Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana
Universidad del Noroeste, ()
Universidad del Nuevo Mundo
Universidad del Valle de México
Universidad de Montemorelos, Montemorelos, Nuevo León ()
Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM), ()
Universidad de Navojoa, Navojoa, Sinaloa ()
Universidad España (UNES), ()
Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México
Universidad Intercontinental, ()
Universidad La Salle
Universidad Latina de América, ()
Universidad Latina de Mexico, ()
Universidad Linda Vista, Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacán, Chiapas ()
Universidad Panamericana Sede Guadalajara, ()
Universidad Panamericana Sede México, 
Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP), ()
Universidad TecMilenio (UTM)
Universidad Tecnológica de México (UNITEC)
Universidad Tecnológica de Sinaloa, ()
Universidad Valle del Bravo
Universidad Mexico Internacional, ()
Universidad La Salle Cancun, ()
Instituto de Estudios Avanzados en Odontologia “Dr. Yury Kuttler”
 Technological Institutes
Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), Mexico City, ()
Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO), Guadalajara, Jalisco, ()
Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM)
Alliant International University (AIU), (Mexico City), ()
Universidad Autónoma Indígena de México, Mochicahui, Sinaloa
Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Las Américas CEAAM, Distrito Federal, México, ()
>> She had math smarts, a love of books and a flair for the stage.
They need those skills back in mejico. Maybe you can help turn it from the open sewer that it is to a semi-productive country.
Or just get a job with Mr. Carlos Slim and serve yourself.
Just go. Now. Take your family with you.
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