Many young people cross the border looking for a brighter future and some are simply trying to save their lives. Crime rates in Central America are among the highest in the world. In fact, many students from Central America do not finish high school or college because they join gangs either voluntarily or because they are forced to. The gang lifestyle often results in jail or death.
"I am one of the millions of students who had to embark on this dangerous journey in search of a safer, better future."
As a result, parents and young people alike have to make the difficult decision to flee their home country and break U.S. immigration laws. I am one of the millions of students who had to embark on this dangerous journey in search of a safer, better future.
I am one of five siblings and over the past eight years, we have all made the journey from El Salvador to the United States. Although we have escaped the dangers of gangs and crime in El Salvador, we are currently facing limitations in education based on our immigration status. The greatest injustice that the Latino community faces is how DACA/Undocumented students receive no assistance from the state and federal governments.
"Although we have escaped the dangers of gangs and crime in El Salvador, we are currently facing limitations in education based on our immigration status."
My family used to live in a neighborhood that was a battle field between two rival gangs. One controlled the neighborhood where my house was located, but we crossed into territory controlled by the other every day to get to school. The first gang knew that my parents and some other family members were living and working in the United States, so they tried to extort my grandparents. The other would harass and threaten my siblings and I because we lived in the wrong side of town. As a result, my siblings and I stopped going to school. I could not go to another school because wherever I went there were members of those gangs who were trying to get me to join theirs.
My siblings and I decided to flee El Salvador and join our parents in the United States because we literally feared for our lives. For the past four years I have been working very hard in school to increase my ability to read, write, and speak in English. My ultimate goal is to become an automotive engineer. This is my last year in highschool and I have been working, so I can be the first of my family to go to college. However, I cannot receive state or federal financial assistance to achieve my college and career goals.
"My ultimate goal is to become an automotive engineer...I have been working so I can be the first of my family to go to college."
Many people assume that immigrants do not care about this country because “we don't pay taxes or we come here just to make money and leave.” Although there are some immigrants that fit this stereotype, the vast majority of us came to this country to live and be a part of for the rest of our lives. Parents work very hard to send their kids to school, so they can have a better education and a better future. Many immigrant parents pay taxes, abide by the law, and want to contribute to their community because they believe they can have a solid future in this country.
We should encourage the Latino community to get together and fight so the politicians can see how these students are working hard and also the opportunities that are been taken away from them. We should make an organization of undocumented students from different schools and all fight for the same cause, At the end we all have the same obstacle to fight so maybe one day we all can have our goals of college complete.
Brittany admits this is a risk: telling her story, being so public. As a nod to that risk, she only wants her first name used. But along with her fear, there's something else: anger.
"I want to be as honest as possible," she says. "It's what I'm going through, what many other kids like me [in Kansas City] are going through, and it's something we don't talk about: it's ignored, it's in the shadows, and it shouldn't be like that."
Brittany calls it her "status". When she was eight, Brittany's mother brought her to the U.S. illegally from their hometown in Mexico to join her father, who had already been in Kansas City several years working. She's now lived in Kansas City longer than she did in Mexico. She speaks English devoid of any accent.
"It's something we don't talk about: It's ignored, it's in the shadows, and it shouldn't be like that."
But she has no Social Security number. She carries no driver's license. For nearly a decade, she's been "undocumented", though she doesn't like that slippery term. "To be honest, I don't think it's insulting. But it's in the way that people are saying it. It's used as an insult. They use it vaguely without understanding what it means for me."
She's eighteen now, a senior at Kansas City's Alta Vista Charter High School. Some teachers there say she's the best the school has ever had. And she has racked up an impressive list of college options. She's been accepted to Rockhurst University, the University of Dayton in Ohio, and the College of St. Mary, a small Catholic all-women's school in Omaha. In addition, she's applied to Vanderbilt, Yale, Swarthmore, and Brown.
"Everyone shoud know what we have to go through just to achieve the things other kids can just go and do."
Brittany admits she's lucky. She says she has cousins in Mexico who dropped out of high school. Other friends here in Kansas City with a "status" like her's who don't have the choices she has. That, in part, is why she's angry.
"Everyone should know what we have to go through just to achieve the things other kids can just go and do."
The rest of the story and an audio interview with Britany is here.
I have lived in my neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri since I was 6-years-old. Most people from my neighborhood are black or Latino and come from low-income households. My community has a negative reputation for various reasons. The crime rate in my area is significantly higher than other parts of Kansas City. There have been 74 homicides in the city this year, and many of those have occurred around my neighborhood. This past month two young Latino males were senselessly murdered just two blocks away from my house.
"Although some Kansas Citians negatively stereotype my neighborhood, it is safer and has more opportunities than my birthplace."
If you drove down my street you would see several empty houses that have been trashed from the inside and out. Houses and businesses are routinely “tagged” by local gang members. Trash is strewn across sidewalks and in front of some people’s homes. Prostitution and drugs plague my community; just the other day, I pulled up to my house after getting off of work, and a prostitute approached my car and offered to sell me cocaine.
However, there are many things that I love about living in my neighborhood. There are people who help each other out whenever they can by sharing food, clothes, or even money. These same people are struggling to pay their bills, yet they still find a way to contribute to other families in need.
Although some Kansas Citians negatively stereotype my neighborhood, it is safer and has more opportunities than my birthplace. I may be removed from Mexico, but there is a thriving Latino culture in my neighborhood. In the our area, you hear Latino music playing in the cars that drive by or from the neighbors outside. You smell the aroma of carne asada being cooked on grills. You feel comfortable speaking Spanish in stores and in the streets.
"There are many things I love about my neighborhood. There are people who help each other out whenever they can by sharing food, clothes, or even money."
It is true that most of the people in my neighborhood are “low income,” but the vast majority of the people in my community aren’t poor because of lack of work ethic; they work two and sometimes three jobs to provide better lives for their families. Since many of my community members are undocumented, they work day and night in low-paying jobs without any benefits.
My community has helped shape my identity and has inspired me to want to give back. I want it to be a safer area for my family and friends to live in. I no longer want to feel the pain of losing a family member or a friend to the violence in my community. I want to be the first member of my family to graduate from college. I also want to be a role model for other Latinos and high school students.
"My community has helped shape my identity and inspired me to want to give back...I want to be a role model for other Latinos and high school students."
More specifically, I want to be a role model for undocumented and Deferred Action students since I am one of them. I have already tried to change my community in a positive way by advocating on behalf of DACA students in Missouri. Earlier this year, two bills were passed that prevented DACA students from receiving scholarships from public universities; they also make college more expensive since DACA students now have to pay out-of-state tuition. I personally met with the governor of Missouri and agreed to participate in a filmed interview about my college and career goals, and how they have been impacted by these bills. Although our efforts to veto the bills came up short, I am determined to achieve my college and life goals.