Faces of Immigration: Being illegal limits 16-year-old overachiever
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2011
7/31/11 at 4:02 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY - For a year, Ana collaborated with other Oklahoma City high school students to come up with an innovative, environmentally safe product based on several scientific principles.
The 16-year-old spent most afternoons working with a city-wide team from various high schools developing a new biodegradable water bottle.
The group won a national contest that comes with an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe to work in a world-class laboratory and study with noted environmental scientists. The teenagers will enter their project in an international competition with a possibility of getting their product manufactured.
But Ana won't be there. If she leaves, she may never get back into the country.
She came to the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico, at age 10 on a family tourist visa, which long ago expired. She is living in the U.S. illegally and without an avenue to apply for legal residency.
School officials helped her find attorneys for immigration advice. But so far, only bad news. She tries to stay upbeat.
"What I have learned, no one can take from me," she said, referring to her education. "I'll be disappointed if I can't go (to Europe), but I'll be OK. I've learned a lot."
Ana would rather talk science than immigration. Her academic performance puts her in nearly all of her school's honors programs and advanced classes.
She would like to become a science researcher focusing on ecosystems. She is studying cosmetology now to have a job through college.
"I want to make the world better," she said.
As Ana gets closer to graduation, she has a better understanding of what being undocumented means for her future. She will not be eligible for state aid or loans, and most scholarships won't be available to her.
Also, some states, including Oklahoma, are moving to require that illegal immigrants pay out-of-state tuition.
"I've always known I was undocumented, but I didn't really care much until high school," she said. "That's when you want to drive or get a job. But I don't have any papers to do that. I'm hoping for a law to allow me to have papers. If I could become a resident, it would mean great opportunities for me and my younger sister.
"When politicians and people talk about immigrants, they treat us like we're criminals. I don't think that's fair."
In addition, her father has heart problems, leading to an inability to work and mounting medical debt. Her mother picks up jobs cleaning houses. As illegal immigrants, they cannot receive government benefits to help with bills.
Ana stays positive, continuing to throw herself into studying and planning on a professional career.
"I want to take these opportunities and not end up like my parents," she said. "I want to make something better of myself. I don't know what I'd do without my parents, and they are trying everything possible to help me."
Ana leans on her Pentecostal faith and volunteers at her church, handling its media and technology equipment.
"God has helped me through a lot," she said. "I have faith in God."
Original Print Headline: Being illegal limits 16-year-old achiever
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Ana operates the video screen during a morning service at her church in Oklahoma City. The 16-year-old helps design and put together the visuals for her church's services. She came to the U.S. when she was 10 with her family on a tourist visa. ADAM WISNESKI / Tulsa World