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Some teachers, students give Oklahoma immigration laws a bad grade

Young adults who work hard in school but might be deported question whether they should even get an education.
BY GINNIE GRAHAM - Tulsa World Modified: August 8, 2011 at 9:07 am •  Published: August 8, 2011
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photo - Student Council President Dimitri Wortham (center) and secretary Angie Mata (left) join other members of the student council to form a tunnel with their arms for parents and students to pass through as they are greeted at the front door during the Back 2 School Bash at Santa Fe South Charter High School in Oklahoma City on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. Photo by John Clanton
Student Council President Dimitri Wortham (center) and secretary Angie Mata (left) join other members of the student council to form a tunnel with their arms for parents and students to pass through as they are greeted at the front door during the Back 2 School Bash at Santa Fe South Charter High School in Oklahoma City on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. Photo by John Clanton
Ev
en if he found a sponsor, he would have to return to Mexico, banned from re-entering for at least 10 years as a penalty for living in the U.S. illegally.

"What can we do to have change?" he asks. "Will they really let us go to school or get health care? I want to stay here and have the opportunity to make a career. But because I'm illegal, I can't go to a university or college because I can't pay the tuition."

Disappearing friends and neighbors are not unusual.

"We don't know what happened to them," he said. "The laws are not just. They don't help us. If I had the chance to go to college, I'd do it, no doubt. I'd be a teacher to teach the new generation that they can achieve."

'Look a lot like Americans'

Manny, 18, has been in the U.S. for 13 years and considers himself an American. When he was 5 years old, his parents had already crossed the border from Mexico and made arrangements to reunite with him.

Manny and his younger sibling were taken illegally across the border into Texas, led by a 12-year-old who was a friend of an uncle. He doesn't remember much except having to hide.

"I know we had to look a lot like Americans when we went because it was easier getting across," he said.

He doesn't want to return to Mexico because of the drug cartel wars.

"There's a lot of death there," he said.

Manny said he has a large family with varying legal residency status. He said his father works in manual labor, usually outdoors.

"My generation goes to school to do something more with their lives and do something for our country. But there are so many obstacles," he said. "I wonder, why start college and spend the money if you don't know how you can get a job after you're done?''

Manny considers himself bilingual, though he gets stumped on some words, especially with fast speakers. He was not doing well in his neighborhood public school, saying the teachers were not patient with his speech and seemed to focus their attention on the English-speaking students.

At Santa Fe South, he was given some extra help on conversational English but spends most time mainstreamed into classes. He also said it is safer at the charter school.

"Learning in English has not been easy for me," he said. "But it's cool here, and there aren't the fights like my other school had. I'm doing much better."

'The happy story'

Escobar describes her students as having "beautiful hearts" with "tolerance, forgiveness and compassion."

"There are times I've gone home and feel it's just too much, it's too unfair and it hits me," she said. "I'm waiting to see the happy story - when we start taking care of our youth."

Brewster said immigration is the one issue where he differs from many of his family and church members.

"I usually am in agreement on everything but this one thing," he said. "I'm all for laws of our country that are good for our country. But we have a history of laws that have not been good for our people, and we need to change those laws.

"The idea of immigrant (status) is with parents in mind. But what do we do with the children?"

Santa Fe South Facts

* Charter school founded in 2001 by educator Chris Brewster with 125 students.

* Brewster became the first Oklahoma principal to win the $25,000 Milken Family Educator Award, which he received in 2009.

* Currently serves 1,300 students in grades kindergarten through 12, with 1,200 students on the waiting list.

* Compared to traditional public school calendars, students attend a longer school day and have six weeks more instruction.

* Teachers serve as counselors, assigned to students to monitor overall progress.

* Peer mentoring program pairs students in upper and lower grades to create a unified school spirit.

* Serves students mostly from low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City.

* Hispanic students are the largest percentage of racial or ethnic groups in the school. Between 10 to 25 percent are undocumented.

* All graduates have been accepted into a two- or four-year college or university.

* About 40 percent of graduates attend higher education.

* Financial hardship is the most common reason cited by graduates who decline their spots in colleges and universities.

* Has won 4A state championships in soccer and cross country.


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