Undocumented immigrants fight for education

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Edith, left, and Adriana, Clovis High School seniors, have been in the U.S. for at least six years.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Iveth has attended Clovis schools since she came to the United States with her parents about six years ago.

Now a Clovis High School senior taking college-level classes, Iveth said she considers America her home and wants to attend the University of New Mexico to study education.

“I have a better opportunity here than I had in Mexico” said Iveth, who declined to give her full name, citing her legal status.

Because she said she is not a legal resident, she does not have a Social Security number, which bars her from applying for student loans and work when she graduates from college.

“They didn’t come here because they chose to, they were brought over here by their parents, and attended our schools,” Clovis Municipal Schools Federal Programs Director David Briseno said. “I can’t imagine how disheartened they must feel.”

Clovis schools do not check the legal status of immigrant students, nor do they ask for Social Security numbers, according to Briseno.

He said a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling granted undocumented children and young adults the right to attend public primary and secondary schools.

There are about 330 immigrant students attending Clovis schools, he said. However, Briseno said their legal status is unknown.

Undocumented immigrant students who pass the high school competency exam can apply to go to college in New Mexico under a state provision, according to Briseno. But they would not be able to qualify for federal funding, he said.

Without legal residency most would not be able to afford to further their education, said Clovis Municipal Schools Family Services Specialist Sylvia Montano.

She said most students who are undocumented immigrants have lived in the country since they were children and most consider themselves Americans.

Montano helped petition locally for the Dream Act, a bill that would grant immigrant children legal status to pursue their education. The act would grant temporary immigrant status for undocumented immigrant children 15 years old and younger who have lived in the country five years before the bill’s enactment.

Clovis High senior Lizbet Chavez wrote a letter to state legislators.

“We came to this country with high expectations, our parents decided to come and work in the United States to give us a better future,” she wrote.

“If we crossed the border without authority, we ask pardon for this.”

An undocumented immigrant, Chavez said she would like the opportunity to go to college to study law.

The Senate rejected the bill Wednesday in a 52-44 cloture vote (60 votes required to pass).

He said the defeat of the bill is just another setback for the push to grant undocumented immigrants legal status.

“I’m sure there will be continued efforts to get it passed,” he said. “This is just the first of many steps that have to be taken.”

The Senate rejected the Dream Act, a bill that would grant immigrant children legal status to pursue their education, in a 52-44 cloture vote.
Voted for the bill: Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
Voted against the bill: Pete Domenici, R-N.M.