No place like home: former student facing deportation after living in the US most of his life

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Photo courtesy Ada Luz Gonzalez Franco

By Jon Parton

On June 4, 2011, former student Jesus Torres, 21, was pulled over by Belton police for an alleged traffic violation. Today, he is facing deportation to Mexico due to that traffic stop. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ordered Torres to leave the country by April 13.

Torres said that he was pulled over by police three blocks away from his home.

“I was going home to pick up my brother and take him to Worlds of Fun,” Torres said. “They said that the tags were not a match to the vehicle. Once he checked all the paperwork, saying it must have been a dispatch error or some kind of mistake, he asked for my license. I gave him my Mexican driver’s license and he said it wasn’t valid.”

Torres was brought into the United States when he was six years old. Torres is one of many illegal immigrants brought into the country as children, young people who have been raised most of their lives in the United States.

The issue has become so prevalent, a legislative proposal known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was reintroduced into the U.S. Senate last year.

The DREAM Act aims to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were raised in the United States. The current bill requires the immigrant to have a high school diploma or GED, not have any felonies, and either be enrolled in college or serve in the military for two years.

Torres, who had no previous run-ins with the law, said he only had two semesters left before earning an associate degree in business administration. Torres works at his father’s mechanic shop in Grandview. Although his parents have since become legal residents and his siblings were born in the United States, Torres has no legal status.

“I’ve got a brother and sister here,” Torres said. “I’ve got my parents here and all my friends from back in elementary school. I’ve got my fiancée here.”

An online petition, signed by more than 1,000 supporters, did not sway immigration officials to offer him an extension. Torres said that living in Mexico will be especially difficult since he doesn’t speak Spanish very well. His only family in Mexico is his grandmother.

Torres said that the situation has been difficult for his fiancée.

“It’s tough on her too,” Torres said. “Since she’s in school right now to finish her nursing program, she can’t really go with me.”

Torres said that it was difficult to explain the situation to his 13-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister.

“It’s affecting them quite a bit,” Torres said. “They don’t even know what’s going on. My little sister is asking me why I have to leave.”

Torres said that he is unsure how he will fit into Mexico since he has lived most of his life in the United States.

“I wasn’t born here but I was raised here,” Torres said. “I was born in Mexico but my culture is not Mexican. This is my culture. This is my home to me. This is what I know.”

Torres went to the college because of Kansas state law that allows illegal immigrants to attend. Pete Belk, program director, Admissions, said that while the college looks at a number of things before admitting a student, legal status is not one of them.

“We can’t, by law, require a social security number but it’s optional,” Belk said. “It is a requirement for financial aid to have a social security number.”

The state of Kansas passed a law in 2004 that allows undocumented students to attend any Kansas public university as long as certain requirements are met.

“Undocumented students we will admit if they live in the state of Kansas or graduated from high school in the state of Kansas,” Belk said. “We can give them in-state tuition per House Bill 2145.”

Belk said that the bill allows undocumented students to attend college as long as they have graduated from a Kansas high school, attended a Kansas high school for three or more years and signed an affidavit that states the student will initiate the process that can lead to legal residency.

“If you choose not to sign that affidavit or you did not graduate from a Kansas high school, we charge you out-of-state tuition,” Belk said.

Although the law does not support a path to citizenship for Torres, he is not without sup- porters. Dorelle Harrison, student, is one such supporter who believes that children who grew up most of their lives in the United States should not be deported.

“It’s not their fault,” Harrison said. “They were too young to understand when it happened.”

Contact Jon Parton, news editor, at jparton@jccc.edu.

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