Activist fights for rights, American dream

By Felicia Melvin
March 20, 2011

Imagine having a 3.9 GPA and not being able to apply for financial aid, not being able to get a driver’s license, and having to pay triple the amount in tuition of what other students pay. These are the some of the disadvantages that many undocumented students face in the United States, a place they consider their home.

“It wasn’t until my junior year in high school, that I realized what it meant to be undocumented,” Maria Marroquin, organizer of Dream Activist Pennsylvania, said.

Dream Activist is a multicultural, migrant youth-led, social media hub for the movement to pass the DREAM Act and pursue the enactment of other forms of legislation that aim to mend the broken immigration system.

Marroquin came to the United States at the age of 13. Her parents decided to leave their native country of Peru in order for Marroquin and her siblings to receive education.

“When I was in Peru my parents had to take me out of school because they couldn’t pay for it. We were struggling financially. My parents told me we were going to Disney World,” Marroquin said.

Marroquin enrolled in high school and struggled with making friends and learning the English language.

“My parents enrolled me in high school in the 9th grade. I didn’t have any friends. I would cry myself to sleep wishing I could go back to Peru,” Marroquin said.

Eventually Marroquin learned English and began to excel in school. She graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA. Although Marroquin managed the grades to attend college and the GPA to apply for scholarships, her legal status kept her from her dream of attending a four-year university.

“After high school I really didn’t know what to do. I was scared and frustrated that I couldn’t continue on with my education, so I started working at a pizza place. And then I realized after a year, I need to figure out a way for me to go to college,” Marroquin said.

“I applied to Montgomery County Community College so I had to apply as an international student, which is triple the tuition a regular student has to pay. It took me about five years to graduate with my associates degree in social sciences. I graduated with a 3.98 GPA,” Marroquin said.

Marroquin’s parents have worked in the United States and have paid taxes since their arrival. “My mom is a nanny and my dad works at a hotel. They work hard and they pay taxes every single year,” Marroquin said. “They do that because they want to. They want to contribute to this country.”

“The IRS takes your money and they don’t recognize you as a person. My mother won’t receive social security. Undocumented immigrants cannot apply for welfare or receive food stamps,” Marroquin said.

Similar to many other college students across the country, Marroquin has goals and dreams that can benefit this country. She wants to challenge the current immigration reform and help other students like herself.

“My goal is to transfer to a four-year college and finish my bachelor’s degree as a political science major. I want to go to law school and I want to be an immigration lawyer. That is my dream and I cannot do that because of my status,” Marroquin said.

Alongside Maria there are many other undocumented students who work with Dream Activist, who have similar stories to work for immigration reform and the passing of the Dream Act all over the country.

“We have a lot of very educated talented folks here in the U.S. We have folks that work with us working on their Ph.D.s, but they’re undocumented, and these are people that want to give back, but the only thing holding them back is their legal status,” Mohammad Abdollahi, Dream Activist organizer in Michigan, said.

“Before I started reading about immigration, becoming involved and advocating for immigrants, I thought that they should just simply get in line,” Eric Gibble, seniorcommunication major, said. “I didn’t understand why they couldn’t go through the legal process. I came to realize that there was no line and the legal process is flawed and it needs to be changed.”

Organizing has been a key factor in pushing the DREAM Act for the Dream Activist.

“For us, the concept of organizing is really about showing undocumented youth and allies the collective resources that we have in our stories as well as, the lives we live. And how we can come together with all of those resources to get essentially what we want, in this case we want the DREAM Act,” Abdollahi said.

“We’re all humans. Who has the right to deny higher education? We all want to learn. It’s something so natural,” Dayana Rebolledo, Michigan organizer, said.

“I think Maria is extremely brave and ambitious in whats she wants, and she is not going to give up until she gets what she wants, and that is the DREAM Act,” Maureen Browne, secondary education major, said. “People should support them. They are not hurting anybody. They are extremely hard working. Most of them came here when they were younger, and they did not decide to come here. They are a part of this country.”

Marroquin is a leader in the fight of higher education for undocumented youth and immigrant reform. She considers this country her home and will not give up on her dreams.

“We grew up in this country and we consider this country our home. It’s difficult but I know I cannot give up on my education. That’s what parents came here for,” Marroquin said.

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Felicia Melvin

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