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Dreams on Hold

By Monica P. Garcia
Harsh living conditions impact immigrants lives.

In the early '60s, Virginia Frausto was a migrant worker picking onions in the fields with her family. Most of her childhood was spent in labor camps in housing provided for the family by the farms that employed them.

"The sun goes down late in Oregon," she remembers, "so as kids, my mom and dad would put us down early so we wouldn't be tired in the morning. I'd look through the cracks in the cabins and see the other kids playing and think, "we should be playing."

Arizona has a long history with Mexican migrant workers, looking for opportunities in the States, though the face of migrants has changed over the past years.

When Frausto was young, migrant workers were Mexican-American citizens that were unable to find steady work that would provide enough income for their families.

Entire families would work in the fields. This priority Frausto felt, came before everything else, including education.

"Oh jeez, school," she laughed while recalling her school years, "It was like a second thought. My mom and dad only sent us because it was required. My parents were too worried about keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table.”

The Migrant Education program was founded in 1965 while Frausto was going to school. However, the hassle of re-enrolling in school and trying to start classes in the middle of the school year was often too much. She and her siblings stayed home most of the time; unable to work in the fields but also unable to go to school.

This lax view on education was a commonality among Hispanic migrant workers during this time, the opposite of what Hispanics strive for today.

Frausto now works with young Mexican immigrants that have come over to America illegally, called Dreamers. Dreamers are often brought to America when they are very young and grow up here.

"They're in a limbo state," she says, “because they don’t feel welcome here and they can’t go back to a country they know nothing about.”

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law, the government acknowledges their citizenship status for two years, "after two years, we don't know what will happen to them." Frausto said.

According to the Brookings Institute, "More than half a million people have applied for DACA through June 2013". Daniel González, a journalist for azcentral.com and the Arizona Republic, reports that of those half a million people, 19,149 Arizonans have applied for DACA, while only 15,009 have been approved. "These Arizonans represent about 58 percent of the estimated 33,000 undocumented immigrants in the state eligible for the program, according to the Migration Policy Institute," González stated.

"Every minute they're living their life like 'if I get pulled over because I'm going five miles over the speed limit, 'that's it, my life is done.'" said Lorenzo Frausto, a Senior Associate at a law firm that works closely with Dreamers and undocumented immigrants.  "Imagine living under that kind of pressure."

Lorenzao Frausto keeps in touch with an ASU graduate, who has a Master of Science in electrical engineering, but is working at a fast food restaurant. "The kid is way smarter than I could ever be, but he's working at a restaurant because that's all he can do. He's just stuck [because of his lack of citizenship]."

Every year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, according to the Urban Institute. Many graduate at the top of their classes, but cannot go to college, join the military, work, or pursue their dreams.

The majority of these undocumented students come from Mexico and other Latin countries. Approximately 17% of undocumented immigrants are under the age of 18.

Lorenzo Frausto also helps get citizenship for people who apply for work visas through corporations. He explains that the way that immigration law is written, it heavily favors non-Hispanics.

He describes the process in which he applies for visas for different clients, saying that there are extra steps in place for Mexican citizens to get a visa, while it's relatively easy for a Canadian national to get and maintain their visa.

"It's inherently unequal," Lorenzo Frausto  says.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was introduced in 1994 to allow citizens of the United States, Canada, and Mexico the opportunity to work in each other's countries. The TN visa works as a permit for Canadian and Mexican citizens to pursue temporary entry into the United States.

Unlike Mexican citizens, Canadian citizens are generally eligible for admission as nonimmigrants without a visa.

From the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website: "If you are a Canadian citizen, then you are not required to apply for a TN visa at a U.S. consulate."

It seems that this extra step is reserved for Mexican Nationals.

"What we've lost," Lorenzo Frausto  says, "in terms of immigration, is the humanitarian view of letting people into our country. In the past we let people in—we'd take the people you don't want—because that's what we do. The law is written about keeping people out instead of keeping the right people in. We let the select few in."

Virginia and Lorenzo Frausto have accomplished victories for Mexican Americans. Virginia Frausto drafted a bill against using "El Cortito," the short hoe, for farmworkers, and Lorenzo Frausto has given families citizenship for those who desperately need it.

"There are still people who thank me," he said, "but I don't do it for that. I just like that they're here and that they're okay, and that their kids are okay."

Fifteen thousand Arizona Mexicans have been given two years to 'Dream' under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival law. DACA however, is just a dam holding back the miles of progress Dreamers can achieve.

Dreamers are unable get jobs despite what they have to offer and live under the fear that they'll return to an empty home, their family deported.

Surely, America has more to offer.