NORMAN — Deisy Escalera considers Oklahoma her home.
She graduated from high school here, goes to college here and pays taxes here. But in some respects, Escalera isn't American — at least, not on paper.
“I consider myself an American,” she said. “I was not born here, but I consider myself an American.”
Escalera, 23, came to the United States illegally from Mexico with her mother when she was 6 years old. Today, she's one of 25 undocumented students at the University of Oklahoma. Several of those undocumented students and their supporters gathered on OU's South Oval Tuesday evening to discuss the issues they face.
The vigil was organized by the Norman chapter of DREAM Act Oklahoma, an organization that seeks to put faces on the issue of illegal immigration. The group takes its name from a piece of proposed legislation that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Although the DREAM Act hasn't been enacted, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a policy earlier this year that allows certain undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as young children to stay in the country temporarily. The policy, known as Deferred Action, allows those immigrants to apply for two-year work permits that would let them stay in the country.
In Oklahoma, undocumented students may be offered in-state tuition if they graduated from high school in the state and lived here with a parent or legal guardian for at least two years before graduation. Undocumented students must file an affidavit with the college or university saying they plan to apply for legal status as soon as they're eligible to do so.
Although they may be granted in-state tuition, undocumented students aren't eligible for federal financial aid programs like Pell Grants, Federal Work Study or federal student loans.
Escalera, a co-founder of the Norman chapter of DREAM Act Oklahoma, said she hopes to see the perception of undocumented students change both at OU and nationwide. The organization isn't asking for violent criminals to be allowed to stay in the United States, she said, only those who want to stay here to work or go to school.
Escalera said she watches her mother get up early each morning to go to a job she doesn't like. After work, she comes home, eats dinner and goes to bed. Then, she gets up the next morning to do it again — all the while, fearful that one day she'll be deported. Her mother took on that risk so that Escalera would have the chance for a better, more stable life, she said.
“My mom is not a criminal,” she said. “My mom respects everything about this country.”
Nancy Perdomo, another OU student, attended the vigil to support her fellow students.
Although she isn't undocumented herself, Perdomo said she sympathizes with friends who have to navigate legal and political wrangling to stay in the country.
“I see how brave they are and how big their dreams are,” she said. “It's sad that they're put into this box.”
Eleazar Velazquez, an undocumented OU student and the group's co-founder, said he worries about his friends and family who have had to deal with the ramifications of being undocumented. A friend recently received a letter saying he'd been rejected for Deferred Action.
Velazquez said he doesn't put much stock in Deferred Action. Although it does grant temporary legal status to some undocumented workers, it isn't a permanent solution. It doesn't grant citizenship or even provide a path to citizenship.
“People think it's over,” he said. “The fight has just begun.”
People think it's over. The fight has just begun.”
Undocumented OU student and co-founder of the Norman chapter