- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - When Heriberto “Eddie” Duran was in high school, like his classmates around him, he thought about what he’d like to do after graduation, specifically, which college he’d like to attend.

As he moved toward doing the things that other high-school seniors do, he met a roadblock, an insurmountable roadblock.

He realized that because he was not born in this country and was not here legally, he could not apply to and be accepted into college. He could not apply for scholarships or financial aid. And he couldn’t work.

“Back then, I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I couldn’t make plans - I was so frustrated,” he said. “What was the point of getting good grades if I couldn’t go to college? So my plans were like ‘what am I going to with my life’?”

Duran was saved, just in the nick of time, by a bill in the Illinois Legislature that was adopted by the House. He still remembers its number: House Bill 0060.

This law allowed him, as a graduate of an Illinois high school who was not a citizen or a resident, to become eligible to pay tuition as the same rate as any other state resident.

“It gave me the opportunity to attend college,” he said.

These days, laws are a bit more supportive of undocumented students like Duran who desire to improve their lives in college or some other training program. Their cases are helped through relatively new laws like DACA - the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, created by President Barack Obama in June 2012.

Those who earn deferred action status are able to work in this country legally. It is not considered a direct path to permanent resident and can be revoked at any time.

As of 2012, there were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in this country, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. More than half, 6.7 million, are reportedly from Mexico.

From time to time, Tim Taylor, director of the Newman Center on SIU’s campus, said he becomes aware of students who are undocumented and would fall into the “Dream Act situation.” The students don’t tell him, typically, but their situation highlights that as an issue.

Some of the students can become anxious of their life after college.

He said some of them are anxious about the thought of being sent to a country that they never lived in, or don’t remember living in, and where they don’t know the language.

“I can say from the few students that I have interacted with that most of them … and their families are paying the full cost of their education,” Taylor said. “That is astounding to me.

“They are borrowing money from relatives, they are getting a loan for support from their extended families to be able to do that. And I think it’s wonderful.”

He said their friends and colleagues might not always know their status situation, either.

“They’re conscious about how their peers are going to think of them,” he said. “They didn’t put themselves in that situation, but they know that some other students, some of their peers, will look down on them if they were aware of their immigration status.”

The Illinois law was the beginning of helping Duran realize his long-held dream.

The 2012 DACA policy further helped Duran realize his dreams.

It gave him the opportunity to attend college, but Duran and his parents, migrant farmers, still had to finance all of his undergraduate college expenses. His family helped out as long as they could, but that came to a virtual stop when he had two more semesters remaining in college.

“I had no more money,” he said.

He had to get money from somewhere and thought of the job he worked for three summers in construction in North Carolina. So with two semesters remaining between him and his bachelor’s degree, he left school, traveling to North Carolina where he lived and worked for eight months.

He came back with $10,000 he’d saved toward his SIU tuition bill and living expenses. He graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

But with his degree, he was still unable to find work, as he had no working papers, no documentation proving him legal to work in this country.

Someone at SIU, who thought they could help the then-23-year-old find work legally, tried, but that was also met with a final no.

“At this point, I was tired,” he said.

He eventually did find a minimum-wage job, not in his career, which he worked for six years.

“It’s kind of ‘life in the middle’,” he said, not being legally able to move forward.

Then, in 2012, President Obama approved the DACA policy; Duran applied and gained his green card - his, a green-colored card that looks like a state identification card with his photo on it. This gave him legal residency for 10 years.

That also allowed him to search for legal work, but when he applied for engineering jobs, was typically denied because of the six-year gap in his career-work experience.

That’s when he decided to return to SIU for an advanced degree in civil engineering and to brush up on his skills and training. He is putting the final touches on his thesis project and has interviewed for a job, one for which he is hoping to get an offer.

“For me, now, I’m excited that I overcame the impossible obstacle,” he said.

“I guess it is true what they say - they say that your dreams do come true,” Duran said. “I knew that was the key to pursuing my dreams, and my dream was to accomplish something.”


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/1Sllm4w


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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