More from this show

Congressional Democrats have reintroduced the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a route to citizenship for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally, if they pursue a college education or military service. Recent ASU graduates Evelin Rodriguez Villareal and Angelica Hernandez and Carmen Cornejo, who represents a group advocating passage of the DREAM Act, discuss what it would mean to them if Congress passes the legislation.

Richard Ruelas: Thank you for joining us, I'm Richard Ruelas, in for Jose Cardenas. Last week senate democrats reintroduced the Dream Act, legislation that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally if they attend college or serve in the military. This legislation passed the house last year but died amid senate Republican filibusters. Tonight we want to bring you the perspectives of two recent graduates and what it means to them if the Dream Act passes in Congress. With me are recent ASU graduates, Angelica Hernandez and Evelin Rodriguez Villareal. Thank you both for joining us. I guess first congratulations are in order for making it through your time at ASU.

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Thank you.

Angelica Hernandez: Thank you.

Richard Ruelas: When did you discover you might be in this situation at the end of your college career?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I discovered it when I was in second grade.

Richard Ruelas: Already in second grade you knew you'd go to college?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: My teacher went to ASU and I believe it was one of her classes that she invited me to go and sit, you know, experience what college life is all about.

Richard Ruelas: But what made you know that at the end of this you might not have the college career that --

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: oh, that same year my dad got deported to Mexico. After working at a restaurant. So I knew then.

Richard Ruelas: All the ramifications were there, you knew even if you got a degree you wouldn't be able to use it?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: And what about you, when did you discover you would be in this boat at the end of year graduation ceremony?

Angelica Hernandez: Well, I have an older sister who's a year older than me, so she went through the process before me. Of applying to ASU and realizing that she couldn't apply for financial aid and different scholarships. So in high school and probably coming out much middle school, I knew that, OK, I was going to college because I was always a family value, but at the same time I knew that I was undocumented and I wasn't going to be able to use my degree.

Richard Ruelas: You talk about being a family value, typically it seems like it takes immigrant families two or three generations to produce a college graduate. What do you think that instilled that value in you at such a young age? It seemed like a very -- you really did defy odds to come here and graduate college. What do you think instilled that in you?

Angelica Hernandez: I think it has a lot to do with our parents. I know my mom and my dad, they -- first my mom only has a sixth grade education, so just seeing every day how she's works hard and how she has to do that work to just get by at the end of the day, for me and my sister it was kind of certain that we needed to go to college because she would always say it's all about education. You have to go to school, I would've gone to school if I could have, but I had to work to help my family. So it's always been something that is talked about at home, and you always know that no matter what, you should go to college.

Richard Ruelas: For you, was it your teacher, or --

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: It was both. Unlike her parents, my parents actually did graduate from high school except that from my mom, she always had to work, even at age 16 she had to leave her hometown and move to the city. So with me it was always, you have to get an education to actually be able to provide for yourself, but eventually a family that you're going to have.

Richard Ruelas: How did your family come here, how did you come here as a kid?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I was 5 years old, and they just told me you're going to go to the United States, and I was like, OK.

Richard Ruelas: You didn't put up much of a fight?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I didn't. My aunt used to live in Chicago, and then she would always bring me stuff and I always wanted to go to Disneyland. So when they said let's go to the United States I was like, OK, we're going on vacation.

Richard Ruelas: Did you ever get to Disneyland?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Eventually, yes.

Richard Ruelas: At 5, did you know what you were doing? Do you remember crossing or how you crossed?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I don't remember crossing. Most of what I do remember is that back in Mexico I was in preschool, so I was already accustomed to going to school. But when we arrived here I couldn't enroll in school until I was 6. So I had to wait a whole year, and I don't remember any of it, I just know that once I got in school it was really hard, I remember going home and crying that I didn't understand the teacher. Or my peers.

Richard Ruelas: And that's one of the things I guess Arizona is not supposed to be graded educating students in general, and not supposed to be graded educating English language students, but when did you start picking up English and excelling in school?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I picked it up that year. I was -- I'm grateful for my mother, she didn't know any English at all, but yet she would sit down and actually do homework with me. And it was a constant communication with the teacher of like, how can I help you, are you understanding at least a little bit of it, and ESL also helped.

Richard Ruelas: How did your family cross?

Angelica Hernandez: Well, we crossed through the desert, it was the same thing, for me my mom was just like, OK, we're going to go to the U.S. because your dad is there and we're just going to go and see him. Because we haven't seen him for two years or so. So we -- I do have some memories of crossing, and it was pretty scary, and I remember walking along -- walking long hours and having to sleep in the desert and stuff.

Richard Ruelas: You did it the -- not the driving in a van way.

Angelica Hernandez: No. We were walking. For a lot of hours. So I do remember that. Once we got here, I started the fourth grade. I was 9, so like Evelin in Mexico you start school when you're very young. And I actually started when I was 3 years old. So I was in preschool for three years, and then once I came here, I started fourth grade and it was really difficult because of not knowing English. And like Evelin, you just try -- you know that it's something you have to learn, so you do your best to try to learn it. And I still remember having -- doing when I used to do was listen to people, and see what it sounded like. You don't know what they're saying, but I would listen to someone say something, and then see what outcome they would get. And then I would go try it. And repeat, try to sound it as close as I could to what they had said. To get the same outcome.

Richard Ruelas: You felt that same sort of feeling of being lost --

Angelica Hernandez: yeah.

Richard Ruelas: Wow. Did television help?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Yes.

Angelica Hernandez: Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: I remember watching Barney.

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Sesame Street.

Richard Ruelas: Oh, good. Public broadcasting. I'm going keep you here a couple more minutes before we talk about politics. I notice in looking at the monitor just off the screen, we're not object securing your face or digitizing your voice to disguise it. You're here speaking with your real name and your real face, and this is who you are. And admitting that you crossed the border illegally. What is giving you the idea that this is a good thing to do, or that is giving you the strength to be here and risk deportation?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I think people need to put a face to the issue that's going on. It's time that people start generalizing or saying oh, well it can't be my neighbor or it can't be the person at the store. Like they need to start putting a face to the situation.

Richard Ruelas: And a face that I guess is -- typically if we see illegal immigrant on television, they don't look like an ASU graduate, I guess.

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: No. They probably would think somebody like my dad, who is a landscape worker, like jeans and bright orange shirt, you know, that's probably what they think of. But no, it could be anybody.

Richard Ruelas: What about you, did you have friends at ASU or through high school who are surprised now to find out that you were saying you crossed the border illegally?

Angelica Hernandez: Yeah, definitely. I think it's always been a scary thing for anyone here undocumented to come out and say, you negotiation I'm undocumented. I'm here. So I think that like Evelin said, it's really important for people to know that we're here, and for people to realize that there's thousands of us that are graduating every year, and that it's something that has to be dealt with. And it's something that is going to keep growing. Unless people know and start supporting our education and being able to pass the Dream Act, I think that's what it's going to take, just people coming out and stepping up and saying, I'm here, I'm undocumented, I want to become legalized and I want to be able to contribute.

Richard Ruelas: What kept you going? You had a business degree, supply chain management. And you were top in your class in mechanical engineering. Difficult career choices. You didn't major in journalism or something easier. What is that it kept you driven to push yourself despite knowing that this probably is a brick wall in front of you at the end of this?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: My family. I have two younger siblings, and they're both girls. And at the end of the day also myself, because I knew if I accomplished this, then I would be able to go to these politicians or go to these people that don't know what's going on really, and educate them and be like, no, I'm here, pay attention.

Richard Ruelas: Speaking of politics, President Obama launched a public campaign for immigration reform and made his renewed push in El Paso, Texas. Also homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, also commented order the president's call for reform on PBS Newshour. We'll flare an advocate for the Dream Act in a moment, but first here's what they said last week.

(PBS Newshour)
President Obama: In embracing America, you can become American. That is what makes this country great, that enriches all of us.

Voice Over: An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now live in the U.S. And the President said it made sense to offer them a path to citizenship. In addition to securing the borders. And he challenged Republicans to join him.
President Obama: We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we've done. But even though we've answered these concerns, I've got to say, I suspect there's still going to be some who are trying to move the goalposts on us. One more time.

Janet Napolitano: I think the president has done a number of things during the course of his presidency, but specifically over the last 60 days to say, immigration remains a problem for our country, it's a law enforcement issue, we have to do enforcement in a smart and effective way, we believe the steps we have taken demonstrate that we are doing that. We have to have a secure border, we believe the massive amounts of resources we've deployed there demonstrate that. We also however need to look at the economic ramifications of immigration. A look at how we handle, for example, Visas for agricultural workers, for high-tech workers. We need to deal with the so-called dreamers, the Dream Act students. That's going to require Congress.

Richard Ruelas: That's you guys she was talking about. With me is Carmen Cornejo, a Dream Act advocacy group. This legislation has been sort of languishing in Congress for a decade or so. What do you think of the chances of it passing this time around?

Carmen Cornejo: It's - an important time for the Dream Act right now, it gives us an opportunity to keep fighting for it--

Richard Ruelas: So given the makeup of Congress, do you think it has a shot of going through?

Carmen Cornejo: Realistically speaking, no. But it's important the introduction of the dream act, because we have legislation to claim. For example, if a student is in danger to be deported and we're talking about people with good moral character and a lot of academic accomplishments, then we want to refer to this legislation to stop the possibility of deportation. There's a Dream Act there, and we're hoping that this legislation is eventually going to pass.

Richard Ruelas: That the intent that eventually the laws might be changed --

Carmen Cornejo: exactly.

Richard Ruelas: You also probably monitor a lot of talk shows or internet sites and blogs.

Carmen Cornejo: yes.

Richard Ruelas: What is the climate, has it softened at all in the last couple years about this issue?

Carmen Cornejo: I think it's mixed. I think our mission is to educate as many people as possible about the benefits of passing this legislation. And but also educating Congress delegation across the country. So they can both -we see us gaining advocates-- we see even housewives as they want to integrate -- they see the -- the unjust situation for the undocumented students and also deportation that these deportations can bring to the country -- we have two wonderful examples here.

Richard Ruelas: You're saying this works, this strategy works.

Carmen Cornejo: And education works. And it works for communities to have more people educated. Especially in critical areas in mechanical engineering and supply management. And one very important fact is that the students benefit by the scholarships in Arizona, 52% are going to science technology engineering and math areas. That are critical for the development of the country.

Richard Ruelas: Let's talk about those scholarships. Politics played a role during I imagine during your college career, when did the prop 300 pass? You probably know this much more than I do.

Angelica Hernandez: 2006.

Richard Ruelas: That required to you pay out of state tuition. So you paid out of state tuition your entire career?

Angelica Hernandez: Yes. It passed in that -- the fall before I graduated, so I started out at ASU with having to pay out of state tuition. The $20,000 --

Richard Ruelas: you're part of the first class.

Angelica Hernandez: The first class to be able to graduate having to pay out of state tuition.

Richard Ruelas: And you took a little -- how long did you take to go through college and when did this start affecting you?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: This started affecting me about maybe my sophomore year. I was still lucky enough to pay in-state tuition, and at that point my parents worked extra hours to be able to pay the in hitch state tuition. But once prop 300 passed, it was like oh, no, what do we do now?

Richard Ruelas: Was that a major blow to you psychologically to think, I was able to pay a few thousand but now out of state -- did you think about I have to go to community college or do something but go to ASU?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: My parents from the beginning knew that I didn't want to go to community college. That I wanted to be the first one to graduate from a University. So they set me down and they were like, don't think about community college yet. Let us figure out something else. Let us sell the car, sell, you know, my mom was going to start selling Tupperware. We're going to do something to make this work.

Richard Ruelas: Was there a gap between when you needed to pay out of state tuition and when the scholarships we'll talk about came in? Did they have to sell Tupperware?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Fortunately not. But we sat down and talked about options, even my parents going -- even if you just take one class, as long as you just stay in the system, we'll make it happen.

Richard Ruelas: Did you -- did it slow down your progress? Were you taking fewer --
Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I did, yeah.

Richard Ruelas: And then again, you're a senior, you're thinking about how to get there, scholarships, it must have been daunting to see that price tag.

Angelica Hernandez: Yeah, it definitely was. Especially because I graduated -- applying to ASU early I was able to get a scholarship for my grades, that would cover all of my tuition. So after proposition 300 passed, those scholarships were taken away. We no longer were eligible for any state funded or the merit based scholarships that we would be eligible for for our academic achievements. So after that I was kind of like oh, what am I going to do now?

Richard Ruelas: Was part of the reason did you so well in high school thinking I'm going to get scholarships at the end of this? There's a rainbow here, a light at the end of the tunnel?

Angelica Hernandez: Yeah. I think as a student who has parents who work in jobs that they're making a little bit of money, there's no way they would be able to fund our education, especially out of state tuition, just from their jobs. So I think that a lot of us, one of the drivers in us doing so well in school and us being so involved in community service, or any other clubs and organizations on campus and high school is because we need that funding, because we know that if we -- are involved and we show that we're getting good grades, we're top students, we're helping in the community, we go and volunteer at a veterans home or something like that, we want to. We really want to and we have that passion for education.

Richard Ruelas: I guess the intent of that prop 300 was to get illegal immigrant students out of Universities. Did it work if that was the intent?

Carmen Cornejo: Out of the Universities, out of the community colleges. We have seen the numbers drop.

Richard Ruelas: Do we know whether students went, did they -- are they -- did they leave the country?

Carmen Cornejo: Some of them are taking one class at a time. But definitely this is discouraging a lot of students and young people into pursuing higher education. Some people are even decided to go out of state to other states that are friendly to students, to achieve education. And this is very ironic, but these two ladies can get jobs anywhere in the world with this situation.

Richard Ruelas: Did you see friends of yours, people who might have shared this secret with you at ASU, drop out or did you share this with many people at ASU? I were there a lot of people you told about this?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: We formed a close-knit group of friends, and some of them like she said, did go out of state. Some of them did drop out. And in reality you'll never know the numbers, because some people never came out and said, I am undocumented.

Richard Ruelas: And as were you going through high school and thinking about scholarships, did you also ever think about if there's any way I can regularize my status? Did you look into how to do that?

Angelica Hernandez: Yeah. I think once you realize that you're going to be having to overcome all these hurdles to be able to get your education, you try to find anything that could make it easier to get there, and that was definitely something looking into what I could do to become -- to get legalized. But since I was brought here legally, there's currently no pathway to legalization for students in that situation. So even if I wanted to apply for something, even if I wanted to go through the system, there is no process for me right now.

Richard Ruelas: I think because you entered illegally there's a 10-year bar, would you have to be back in Mexico after a year and you'd come back. Did you look into it, or was -- did it seem like something that was a possibility?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I looked into it, and there is no process. And then you always heard the people, well, just get married. You'll be set. And it's like, no. First of all, I don't want to get married just for that. And second of all, even if I did get married, it still -- there's not a process.

Richard Ruelas: What do you plan to do? You have a degree, it's true could you probably work anywhere in the world. What are your plans? How are you going to wait for the Dream Act to pass before you have a plan B?

Angelica Hernandez: Well, for me I think I want to be able to pursue the same Avenue that I have been at for the past years after high school, which is higher education. I can get a job OK, I'll try to go to grad school, and be able to get more educated. Get my master's, get my Ph.D. Which is something that I can still do. I can find private funding to be able to get through a master's program or something like that. But I mean, it's definitely something that I hope by us being here and by us sharing our story and what we're going through that I hope that it creates that urgency for legislators to realize that there's a real need for the Dream Act.

Richard Ruelas: And if you go through a master's program or Ph.D. program, we're talking about out of state tuition. Correct?

Angelica Hernandez: Yes.

Richard Ruelas: What is your plan with supply chain?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: Well, ideally once you graduate you want to go in the field and actually start working. Before you continue your master's or Ph.D. So right now I'm still kind of like, in this gray area of, I don't know what to do yet.

Richard Ruelas: Have you thought about Spain, Canada, Mexico, Chile? Have you really thought about to going another country?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I haven't thought about it. Because I really want to stay here and fight for the other classes that are going to graduate and are going to be stuck in the same situation as me.

Richard Ruelas: You heard Carmen say she doesn't think it's going to pass this year. What do you think in your heart? Do you think it has a chance this year?

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal: I know it doesn't. But again, we have to -- every little effort that we do counts.

Richard Ruelas: Will what do you handicap the chances are of the Dream Act passing and do you think your speak out might move the needle a bit?

Angelica Hernandez: I think over the years during high school I started getting involved, and I've seen that there's a lot more support. And I know that the day will come when it will pass, and we need to stick around so that we can be able to educate more people and be able to create more supporters because you see -- if you see out news, if you see it on newspapers and all that stuff, if you just talk about it, and educate people about it, you're going to get more people that are going to support it. So I think that's what's going to make it happen.

Richard Ruelas: I thank you all three for joining us that is all of the time we have for "Horizonte." I'm Richard Ruelas. I'll get that out eventually. Have a good evening from all of us here at Channel Eight.

Evelin Rodriguez Villareal:ASU graduate; Angelica Hernandez:ASU graduate;Carmen Cornejo:Committee for the Support and Development of the American Nation's Students, a group advocating passage of the DREAM Act;

A graphic for the Arizona PBS news show,
airs April 13

This week on Horizonte!

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024
aired April 4

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates as part of ‘AZ Votes 2024’

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: