UW-Parkside Hispanic grad: Eliminate the I-word
This article was written by Marketing Communications Director John Mielke.
When Andres Cerritos played for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside men's soccer team and was studying business management, he did so as a legal permanent resident of the United States. He was also pursuing U.S. citizenship, which he earned at the age of 22, a short time before he graduated in 2003.
He went on to earn his J.D. at the University of Wisconsin and today Cerritos owns an immigration law office in Waukegan, Ill. Some of his clients face the same uncertainties Cerritos faced living in the U.S. before becoming a citizen.
Cerritos spoke to a group of about 40 UW-Parkside students Wednesday, Oct. 12, as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month Speak Out series. Born in El Salvador at the beginning of that country's civil war, his father taught at a university. Cerritos said many faculty members were being targeted by the government. His father chose to leave El Salvador when a close friend and colleague was hanged.
Cerritos was literally carried into the U.S. two years later at the age of 4, when he and his mother crossed the border near Tijuana to join his father.
Cerritos described the experience: "I was carried across the border on the back of a coyote (a person hired to assist others)." He said he often wonders if that person realizes the positive affect that action had on his life.
His family was reunited under the blanket of political asylum. And because of that, Cerritos was able to petition for U.S. citizenship. One of his goals is to eliminate the "I" word -- illegal -- from the debate and discussion surrounding immigration.
"The language we use is important," Cerritos said. "And how the language is used is important."
An example he shared involves the way in which legislation can be worded. "The word illegal signifies something negative," Cerritos said. "How elected
officials use it can be an indication of bias."
The Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is an example of efforts designed to give many undocumented students a path to citizenship. Students who would qualify under the Dream Act are called "dreamers" -- an example of a word with positive connotations.
There are no current laws, Cerritos said, preventing undocumented students from attending an institution of higher education. Being undocumented, however, has other consequences. Students may be required to pay out-of-state tuition and may not have access to some types of financial aid.
The Dream Act, which may address some of those monetary issues, was passed by the House of Representatives last year, but was rejected by the Senate earlier this year. Cerritos believes the U.S. Department of Defense may hold the key to eventual passage of the Dream Act.
In the meantime, the Obama administration has begun to bypass Congress and relax deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been told to use discretion in deportation cases. Cerritos said the decision often comes down to a person's criminal record. His advice to students: Be careful about the choices you make.
"When I was at UW-Parkside, I did some crazy stuff," he said. "What I didn't realize was that anything could have triggered deportation [during the time he was a legal permanent resident]."
Cerritos also talked about the challenges of employment for undocumented students. Employers are required to have a potential employee complete an I-9 form indicating the person's status with regard to U.S. citizenship. He warned students not to misrepresent themselves. The implications of someone indicating they are a U.S. citizen when they are not can result in permanent deportation.
One student challenged Cerritos: "If you say you are not a U.S. citizen, you might not get the job."
Cerritos replied: "I can't tell you what to do, I can only tell you what not to do."Another example of the uncertainties faced by many.