Over García is a senior at the YES Prep Brays Oaks campus, student body president, aspiring political scientist, and a DREAMer. “I’m not a U.S. citizen,” he explains, “I am a DREAMer who would love the privilege to vote and to have that voice.” García is one of approximately 1.4 million immigrants who, according to the American Immigration Council, currently reside in the United States and might qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative.
President Obama signed the DACA Executive Order on June 15, 2012, which helps law-abiding, undocumented, young people living in the United States obtain work authorization, social security numbers, and driver’s licenses for a renewable period of two years. Green cards cannot be obtained through DACA—as was proposed in the original Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that has stalemated in Congress. Regardless, DREAMers still identify as such, reinforcing their support and calls for congressional action around immigration reform.
By removing the threat of deportation and requiring either high school or equivalent diploma or enrollment in an educational program, DACA incents DREAMers, like García, to pursue higher education. Because of DACA, “I’m protected and it’s a great step that President Obama took. It’s what made it possible for me to apply for college.”
García wasn’t always this vocal about his legal status. Recently, YES Prep Public Schools hosted the inaugural Latino Leadership Summit where over 35 Latino community leaders and 220 Latino high school students representing YES Prep’s different campuses participated in workshops organized around the theme ¡Adelante! – Spanish for forward. The Summit’s goals were to celebrate identity and to support students in moving forward with their plans to take action in their communities. During her opening remarks, Texas Representative Carol Alvarado called the Latino community a sleeping giant. “We are the largest minority in the state of Texas. We are the fastest growing population in the country. But what does that mean if it doesn’t translate into voting? Into graduating more kids? I want these numbers to mean something and so we’re here to share our experience with you and to also challenge and tell you that we are counting on you.”
This resonated with García. His grandfather used to wonder aloud why Congress wouldn’t pass immigration reform bills and help struggling Latinos. Determined to answer this question for him, García volunteered with a gubernatorial campaign, interned for a mayoral campaign, and now plans to study political science in college in order to develop a deep understanding of political processes.
At the end of the Latino Leadership Summit, every campus identified an issue in their local community and developed an action plan to address it. García was inspired when his classmates decided to focus on supporting DREAMers. “It was a wake-up call. I don’t share [my legal status] with other people. It’s a personal thing I struggle with because people treat you differently after they learn that [you’re undocumented]. When I saw my peers working to create an action plan to help DREAMers, it moved me and I decided that I want to be a leader of this movement.”