Ayded Reyes has become the face of the DREAM Act after she was dramatically rescued from imminent deportation by a congressman and even more dramatically won the conference cross country championship the day after she was freed.
Her story has been told by major national media in both the United States and Mexico. Southwestern College students who have not appeared on NBC and ESPN have not been as fortunate. They have been whisked off to a foreign country and barred re-entry.
U.S. Border Patrol officials call it deportation. Advocates for students who have lived in El Norte since childhood and grew up as Americans call it cruelty.
“It just makes me wonder,” said Reyes. “How were those other people treated and how were they sent back?”
The U.S. Border Patrol is working diligently to eradicate illegal entry into the United States by increasing the border security and, according to Reyes, harshly punishing undocumented persons who are arrested.
The Consequence Delivery System imprisons undocumented immigrants before deporting them.
Under CDS, immigrants face jail time and criminal charges.
“This system is not a change in policy,” said a Border Patrol spokesperson who declined to give his name. “It is an improvement in our enforcement efforts designed to impact an individual’s decision on whether to cross the border illegally.”
Border Patrol officials insist the system is a way of slowing illegal immigration.
Juan Pablo Santos (not his real name), a student from Southwestern College, said the policy is mean spirited and discriminatory.
“I think it’s not fair to be prosecuted because I have not committed felonies and they are going to make us felons just for being illegal,” he said. “They should take a look at the record and not just prosecute people for not having a paper.”
Santos said he wonders if he should risk his liberty to pursue a college education. His answer is yes.
“It’s always worth it because if you don’t try then you are not going anywhere,” he said. “Everybody has to take a risk regardless of the consequences. I feel like education is a human right. If you want to achieve, do better for yourself and your family, you are going to do whatever it takes in a positive way.”
Santos said his main goal is to finish school. If he is deported he would be a stranger in a strange land, he said, since he came to the U.S. when he was five years old and knows little about Mexico. He said he knows that the U.S. government has the right to protect its borders, but that it should be more sympathetic to students who where brought here as small children.
“When I first came into the United States, it wasn’t my choice so I couldn’t do much but just to follow my parents,” he said. “Day by day laws change, so there’s still hope out there and maybe they will consider students who are immigrants with a clean record and a chance to succeed (an asset). I’m sure that’s what everybody wants.”
Apprehensions on the Mexican border have dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to less than 330,000 in 2011, according to Border Patrol statistics.
Immigration officials are also using the Alien Transfer Exit Program to repatriate immigrants to different regions of Mexico to disrupt the smuggling cycle.
Xochitl Contreras (not her real name), whose stepfather is living in the U.S. without papers, said the policies are inhumane.
“I think that’s a hard punishment due to the fact that immigrants come over here for work, and to send money back to their families,” she said. “Even though it’s illegal, they shouldn’t be punished so heavily as if they were like a criminal who committed murder. They are not equal in my eyes.”
Contreras said she is dependent on her stepfather’s income since he provides for her overhead and school supplies. She said tougher laws will not keep immigrants from coming to this country, especially in the South Bay where the proximity to the Mexican border encourages student migration.
“People will find a way, shape or form to get to this country whether it be crossing rivers, going through tunnels or being smuggled, there will always be a way,” she said. “They just give them a new challenge.”
Southwestern College professor Dr. Duro Agbede said such a change in policy will only increase federal spending. Law enforcement resources, he said, should be focused on other more serious cases.
“I don’t think it’s fair for the taxpayers and it is not fair for the legal system,” said the veteran cross country coach. “They have other criminals to deal with. Now the cost of detaining and the cost of everything like transporting them to court are supported by the taxpayers.”
Instead of criminalizing these individuals, Agbede said this country should give them the opportunity to succeed.
“There are millions of people in this country who are hardworking people,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with fishing out those elements who are bad, but please give those people who are here a chance to achieve, to make contributions to the development of this country. Pass the DREAM Act and give them the opportunity to succeed and be a productive citizen of the U.S.