In the United States, turning 21 means partying, typically of a debauched sort. The last thing anyone expects is celebrating such a momentous occasion at an emergency press conference, where their fears of impending deportation are laid bare in front of the media. Yet for Vanessa Nunez, who is turning 21 on October 20th, it seems that this will very likely be the case.Vanessa is an undocumented student attending Miami Dade Community College and she and her sister are in danger of receiving an order of deportation within the next few weeks.
The two girls arrived in Miami at the age of 13 from Caracas, Venezuela with their mother to visit their brother, a permanent resident. Once in Miami, the family’s arduous and expensive efforts to stay in the country began. In 2006, they filed for political asylum. In 2007, the court denied them their papers. Undaunted, they filed an appeal in August 2009. When they were denied again, they re-applied for a motion to reconsider and re-open the case. In March 2010, they were denied once more.
Throughout the labyrinthine course of immigration proceedings her mother, a permanent resident managed to apply for citizenship, but because of procedural delays, she hasn’t received her citizenship yet, nor has Vanessa received any form of relief to be allowed to stay in the country.
“I was told that I had one month to apply to a federal court to review my case,” said Vanessa, “but the cost is absurd, up to $10,000.00 for a federal review. I can’t come up with $10,000.00 in the one month I have left before I could potentially be forced to leave.”
Based on previous rulings, her lawyers said that, unfortunately, the case was terminal.
As of the end of this month, Vanessa Nunez’ may be at risk of removal by immigration authorities. However, if she is sent back to Venezuela, Vanessa fears that her position as a political asylum seeker will make her future in her own country extremely tenuous and even dangerous.
“I’ve heard that people who return [after seeking political asylum] are exiled in their own land. Chavez has said that these people are targeted as state enemies and traitors. They can’t apply for jobs or public services,” said Vanessa.
A dedicated mechanical engineer student at Miami Dade Community College with a passion for designing environmentally friendly roller coasters, Vice President of the Youth for Environmental Sustainability Club, member of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers(SHEP), and math and science tutor, she somehow still manages to score a 3.8 GPA.
Vanessa prays that she will not be forced to leave the United States, yet she also acknowledges that in order for her to advance as an engineer she needs legislative reform, like the DREAM Act, that will allow her to build the mechanical juggernauts she’s always wanted to create.
“I can’t get internships because I have no social security number,” said Vanessa, “They’re very competitive. I’m very passionate, but I need that magic number. I’ve been recommended to go to Ohio State University, but because of my status, I can’t.”
She is one of more than 2 million undocumented students in the United States whose futures are uncertain at best, non-existent at worst. The DREAM Act would allow these countless undocumented youth the opportunity to pursue higher education. Yet, in a time when there is a serious dearth of engineers, scientists and innovators to be found within the United States, good sense takes a back seat to partisan politics. How much longer can we continue twiddling our thumbs among a morass of broken promises?
Vanessa’s academic dedication and civic engagement is a further testament of the quality individual that we would lose if we were to allow her deportation. This quality is a fact that has been quickly assessed by her friends and SWER members who, like her are also undocumented. These youth are rallying around her case, passing out petitions and clamoring for the support of key community and college leaders, and is how we should aspire to act: inclusionary, incisive, immediate.
The more anti-immigrant legislation is passed, and the more the DREAM Act languishes in the dusty drawers of congressional credenzas, the US will continue to recklessly bleed talent and stagnate in its overall progress as a society; a society that was once, many moons ago, considered a beacon of hope and freedom for thousands.