Could it be true that a vibrant young woman who graduated Magna Cum Laude from a reputable east coast university is prohibited from working legally in the country in which she was raised and educated? It is. And she is. This has been the journey of Isabel Castillo who now advocates for countless other residents who do not have legal documentation. We’re delighted, today, to introduce RLC readers to Isabel.
Margot Starbuck: Isabel, tell us about the circumstances in which you were brought to the United States?
I was brought to the United States when I was six years old from Michoacan, Mexico. My mother grew up in a rural area where the highest level of schooling was second grade in her little town. We were pretty poor and providing a second grade education for my siblings and I was not an option for my parents. We came to the US for a better life and better economic & educational opportunities.
MS: Isabel, many Americans have no way to imagine the constant anxiety with which millions of individuals live. Help us understand what it’s like for men, women and children without documentation in the U.S.
Everyday people have to live in fear of deportation. In many rural areas there’s limited transportation so people are forced to drive without a license to work, school, doctors appointments, grocery stores, etc., with the constant fear of being pulled over, detained and deported and perhaps never seeing their loved ones again or in many years. Children are afraid that their parents will not come back home after work, grocery shopping etc.
Without having a legal status you cannot get health insurance. And most states will not give driver’s licenses or ID’s to undocumented immigrants, so it’s even difficult to return something at store without a state issued ID.
MS: Is the Dream Act dead? School us. Give us a brief sketch of what was contained in the Dream Act, as well as its current status.
The DREAM Act is not dead. Senate bill S. 744 just passed, which includes the DREAM Act. We now have to wait to see if the House of Representatives passes it too. There are four basic requirements in order to qualify under the DREAM Act, if passed into law:
1. An individual must have entered the US before the age of sixteen
2. He or she must have lived in the US for at least five consecutive years at the time of the enactment of this law
3. The person must have good moral character (meaning no criminal record)
4. He or she must have a U.S. high school diploma or GED
If the DREAM Act passes and someone meets the four basic requirements, the person must then go to college for at least two years or serve in the U.S. military for at least four years. Once the person meets that requirement, he or she has to wait under what’s called “Registered provisional immigrant” status for five years before getting a green card. Once someone gets the green card they then have to wait three years to apply to become a U.S. citizen. As you can see, the process is a long one and it’s not “amnesty” like many would argue. People have to prove themselves and work hard under the DREAM Act and any comprehensive immigrant reform bill.
MS: Can you describe the risks you, and others, have taken to advocate for the Dream Act?
Being outspoken about the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is risky because we are exposing our undocumented status. But putting a face to a complex and controversial issue, such as immigration, helps change people’s hearts and minds. The reality is that our lives are at risk everyday because we are undocumented. Any day, immigration (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can show up at our house, school, church or work and deport us to a country we don’t even remember. Being a part of the undocumented youth-led movement has taught me and many others that the more public you are about your status the safer you are. If anything were to happen to me, I know that I have a community right behind me.
MS: You attended college at Eastern Mennonite University, graduating Magna Cum Laude. How were you financially able to attend college? Since you’ve gotten a degree, why is the Dream Act still important to your status today?
I was able to attend EMU with hard work and dedication. Growing up I saved all my money. In high school I was a part of a program called “Cooperative Office Education” where I was placed at an office job, got paid and earned credits. I saved all my money from this program. After high school I worked an entire year seven days a week and also saved all that money. My friends, family and community helped me financially, too.
I paid everything out of pocket because, as an undocumented person, I do not qualify for loans, grants, and federal financial aid. I graduated and have this degree that I cannot use because I am still undocumented and don’t have a work permit and social security number, so the DREAM Act and/or CIR would allow me to become legalized and be able to work legally by obtaining a work permit and Social Security number.
MS: How are you still involved in immigration issues today?
Currently I am trying to stay as active as I can with the immigration movement as we might be close to passing an immigration reform bill. It’s not the best bill, but we are trying to push for one. I’ve had a number of opportunities to speak and I am also helping people who are currently in deportation proceedings. Here is a petition of a local Harrisonburg woman who could be separated from her 5 U.W. citizen children.
Although there’s all this talk about immigration reform, unfortunately, everyday about 1, 100 people get deported from the U.S.—about 400, 000 a year. Deportations should come to an end while congress tries to pass immigration reform.
MS: What biblical principles or passages should Christians consider as they think about immigration reform today?
In Matthew 25 he said “you should welcome the stranger.” We are all God’s children regardless of our legal status. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom not a country! Christians should read Matthew 25:31-46 and should consider participating in the “stranger challenge” by visiting this website.
Margot Starbuck, the author of Small Things With Great Love, is a writer and speaker in Durham, NC. Connect on facebook or @ MargotStarbuck.com
Photo Credit: Steve Pavey