- October 9, 2012
- 12:01 am
- Steve Christensen
Living his dream
Back in May, we introduced you to Carlos Robles (see story below) and his interesting journey to Loyola. Near the end of September, Carlos and his brother attracted the attention of the nationally syndicated CBS Evening News. Click here to watch the brothers share their near deportation story.
Story from May 13, 2012
Carlos Robles is not someone you could imagine being arrested.
Clean-cut with a wide smile, Robles, a junior secondary education major, can talk with ease about complicated immigration policies, procedures, and news. He is an avid tennis player, a part of the club tennis team, and teaches lessons on the side. He is a member of the Student Alliance for Immigration Reform (SAIR), and is a passionate advocate for the DREAM Act. He also participates in the cooking club and social dance club–when he has time, he says with a laugh.
But being arrested is exactly what has brought him to where he is today.
Over two years ago, Robles was in his second year studying at Harper College, a community college in Palatine, where he grew up. He and his family moved to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, living with an aunt and uncle in hopes of better opportunities. They lived in Chicago, and then Palatine where, despite not having documents, Robles and his brother lived a normal life, attending high school, playing sports, and giving tennis lessons to local kids. Over spring break from Harper, Robles and his brother decided to visit a friend attending school in Boston. They thought they were safe taking a train, but when they made a stop near the Buffalo/Toronto border things didn’t go as planned.
The border patrol entered the train, asked for identification, and Robles and his brother could only offer their Mexican consulate cards, and an expired visa. They were pulled off the train, and sent to a local county jail, as all the nearby immigration detention centers were full.
The brothers had to stay the weekend—immigration bail can’t be posted until a weekday—but thanks to money raised by one of their high school teachers, they were able to make bail and go back to Illinois. Despite being sent home, as of last summer the boys had two options: closure, where the federal government would drop the case and they would continue to “fly under the radar” or deferred action, which means they would receive a work permit, a drivers license, and a social security number, but also a deportation order–meaning each year they would have to renew their deferred action, facing an annual threat of deportation. But in summer 2011, they found an ally: Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.
Durbin, who is a chief proponent of the federal DREAM Act, found out about the Robles brothers’ case from the boys’ lawyers (who were representing them pro-bono through funding from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). After hearing the brothers speak at an NIJC luncheon, Durbin’s office discussed their case with homeland security. They were able to secure the boys deferred action regarding the deportation order (meaning they would not face the annual threat of deportation), which is extremely rare.
“It felt like winning the lottery,” Robles says.
Robles says it was like a weight was immediately lifted off his shoulders–the fear of being deported, not being able to work, and being arrested was gone. The most exciting moment, he says, was getting his drivers license, as previously they were not legally allowed to drive.
“I wanted to drive with that thing out the window!” he says.
With the threat of deportation gone, Robles has had the chance to move on with his own life, and become an advocate for others who have gone through what he did. Robles and his brother have both decided to pursue their education further, his brother attending University of Illinois-Chicago to study architecture and Robles at Loyola studying education. Robles says he was drawn to Loyola because of the aid that private universities can offer students–since he is not a citizen, he can’t receive federal aid, so he is financing his education through private grants, scholarships, and working as a tennis coach. Ed Moore, director of scholarships, has helped Robles gain aid to finance his education at Loyola, and says that he respects his work on campus.
“He is so involved with service and working, and helping the community and students, so that is really where I have come to admire him,” says Moore. “He has really [faced hardships] in pursuing his education, and is such a nice young man to begin with, such a delight to work with.”
Robles has not wasted his time at Loyola. In addition to his studies, he has been active in supporting the DREAM Act, both at a federal and local level. Robles campaigned in Springfield last spring for the Illinois DREAM Act, which passed months later and was signed into law this spring. The Illinois DREAM Act created a scholarship fund for undocumented students who graduated from Illinois high schools.
Despite the success in Illinois, Robles says the lobbying has not been easy. He says he has run into many people who have misconceptions of undocumented immigrants, including (but not limited to) they are criminals, do not pay taxes, and are not learning English–all of which are sweeping generalizations. He also points out that many people underestimate the complexity of becoming a citizen. “You can’t just go in and take a test, and come out a citizen, there is a huge process even to be eligible to take the test,” he says. “The test is like the end of the road.” Overall, he says “it was frustrating to see how little your representatives know about an issue.”
The federal law would offer the opportunity for citizenship to students who graduate from college, or enlist in the military, have been in the country an extended period of time without criminal activity, and have good moral character. Robles says he believes this is a good indication that people who will benefit the country become citizens. “It’s a pretty solid way to filter people, I think,” he says.
In addition to relaying his experience to lawmakers, Robles has found another ally and opportunity to tell his story here on campus. This summer he will be interning with the Office of First-Year Experience, helping to plan fall 2012 convocation, which will focus on immigrant rights. Incoming freshmen will read Enrique’s Journey, by Sophia Nazario, the true story of a young boy from Honduras making the treacherous immigrant trek to America to find his mother. Justin Daffron, S.J., associate provost for academic services, who recruited Robles for this role, praises him for beating the odds and continuing his education.
“Carlos is an inspiring student given his background, which presents a number of challenges. He is working to advance the DREAM Act to help similar students who are in jeopardy of being able to continue to work and live in the United States,” Daffron says. “It’s the type of social action that is what is best about Carlos and is what is most inspiring about a place like Loyola.”
Robles agrees, saying “It’s good to know the school I go to is supportive of who I am and the issues that I face.”
This work has also inspired him to change his career trajectory. Though Robles originally hoped to be a teacher, working through his own legal battles has inspired him to pursue a career in law. He hopes to teach for a few years, and then enter law school to get a degree specializing in immigration law, always remaining an advocate for those who are hoping to become citizens of the United States.
“By the time I am a lawyer, hopefully there will be some legislation passed so there will be work I can do to help people,” he says.
Currently, Robles and his brother are considered “aliens with work authorization”, meaning they are allowed to work and drive, but cannot leave the country. Their only opportunity for citizenship is for the DREAM Act to pass or to get married. However, he says he is happy to be in America, and feels lucky he can work to help others who are even less fortunate than him.
“We are in a special position,” he says. “We should take advantage of that.”