I’m a freshman at the University of Texas, San Antonio, majoring in politics and law. Like my peers, I spend my time studying for prerequisite classes like mathematics and philosophy, eating in the dining hall, or studying by UTSA’s famous Sombrilla Plaza fountain on nice spring days. But there’s one major difference between me and most other UTSA students: I won’t be able to legally work after graduation.
I came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2008. Had I arrived just one year earlier, I’d qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives temporary legal authorization to immigrants who came here as children. Since I missed the cutoff, I don’t have a social security number, can’t get a driver’s license in the state of Texas, and don’t have a work permit or legal status.
Today, increasing numbers of undocumented students are facing these same issues. In 2021, a federal judge here in Texas ruled against the DACA program, halting all new applications. That means more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants across the nation are graduating high school without any kind of legal authorization or protection every year, including 17,000 from Texas high schools. Many of them will go on to attend Texas public colleges thanks to a 2001 state law signed by former Republican Governor Rick Perry that extends in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students if they meet certain requirements. (Unfortunately, this wildly successful policy also remains under attack at the State Capitol and in the courts.)
Today, over 58,000 of Texas’ undocumented youth are enrolled in higher education. But once we graduate, most of us will enter the job market with a four-year degree and limited ways to use it.
I was born in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico, where my dad worked as a mechanic and my mom worked in retail. They had carved out a decent living, but crime permeated their day-to-day lives. One time, a gunman entered the public bus my mom was riding and assaulted the driver, demanded jewelry and money from passengers, and shot a passenger who tried to call for help. Another time, she was physically assaulted while walking down the street. When I was 4, they decided to leave the home they loved for their safety and mine.