USF alumnus shares journey to citizenship

USF alumnus Carlos Estrada will be starting work at an advertising agency in New York City after a long journey to become a U.S. citizen. Photo by Yara Zayas

Imagine being wrapped up in a wool blanket, thrust into a hidden compartment inside of a car, seeing nothing but darkness and having no idea what is going on.

That is the scenario that USF alumnus Carlos Estrada, 25, found himself in when he and his mother traveled north across the Mexico–United States border in 1996.

It was this first trip across the border that began Estrada’s long path to obtaining his U.S. citizenship.

Estrada was only 4 years old when his mother decided to get in touch with members of the family who lived in the United States legally and asked for their assistance.

He explained that during this time frame, applying for citizenship started to get more difficult. President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which put restrictions on immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally.

“It was a stressful environment. I remember my mom and our driver trying to make sure that we didn’t get caught,” Estrada said. “It was really scary.”

To make sure that he was calm and not scared, his mother told him the escape was a game. She told him to be as quiet as possible. At some point during the ride, Estrada fell asleep and when he woke up they were already in Texas and on their way to Tampa.

Estrada and his mother stayed with distant relatives. The relatives let Estrada, his mother and sister, who was born in the U.S. after Estrada and his mother crossed the border, stay in a spare room at their house.

“My mom worked three jobs to help us survive,” Estrada said. “One of them was cleaning toilets, so she started from the very bottom.”

Eventually, Estrada said, he and his family began to make ends meet. They got their own apartment. Estrada said that his mother began making good money by working as a hair stylist. Estrada was also finally able to attend school.

Life took a turn when Estrada graduated high school. He had to return to Mexico since he was still living in the United States without legal permission. His mother, who had become legalized through marriage, stayed behind.

“After I graduated, I was at the end of the line on what I could legally do,” Estrada said. “I had no papers and no Social Security. I was stuck and I didn’t have a choice. I needed to do things the right way.”

Estrada said that it took him about a year to get everything ready and thousands of dollars in attorney fees to be able to appeal to the legal system and apply for citizenship. Estrada also had help from his mother’s husband, who was a legal Mexican immigrant.

“My grades also helped during the appeal process,” said Estrada. “All throughout high school, I was a straight-A student. I always tried super hard and never got in trouble.”

Estrada immediately returned to Tampa once the court granted him entry to the United States as a legal citizen. He received his full citizenship in 2016.

He applied to college and began his new life as a U.S. citizen. Estrada attended Hillsborough Community College and then transferred to the University of South Florida where he majored in mass communications with a concentration in advertising.

“I admire the fact that he was able to turn his life around, even though it seemed like the world was against him,” said Jamie Norman, a friend of Estrada’s. “No matter what happened, he didn’t give up.”

To keep himself financially afloat, Estrada worked many odd jobs that ranged from acting to plumbing and even to some real estate. He interned at various businesses and participated in school programs such as the Most Promising Multicultural Student, a program that helps multicultural college seniors connect with the advertising industry. The program even allowed him to travel to California for a company visit.

“I got the opportunity to go to Google,” Estrada said. “I never thought I would get to go there. That was so cool.”

After graduating from USF in spring of 2017, Estrada got a job offer from Green Team Global, an advertising agency in New York City. He is set to move to Brooklyn and take the position at the firm within the next month.

“Hopefully everything actually works out,” Estrada said. “I’m so excited.”

USF students rally in support of DACA

TAMPA – Dozens of students showed up at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Thursday in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, commonly known as DACA.

Jose Flores (left), Stephanie Garza (center) and Michelle Joseph (right) hold signs made for the DACA rally at USF while attendees talk in the background.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order that prevented deportation of children under the age of 16 who immigrated to the United States illegally. While DACA is not a permanent solution for those who are eligible to apply, it gives them more time to work or receive an education in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, an estimated 790,000 unauthorized immigrants have been protected under DACA.

Last week, President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced that the administration will end the program in six months. As of now, no new DACA applications will be considered.

Trump’s presidential campaign focused on decreasing the number of immigrants to the United States, along with deporting those who are not here legally. Almost immediately after being sworn in, Trump began to follow through on his promise to be tough on undocumented immigrants.

Since the DACA announcement, congressional Democrats have been scrambling to make a deal in order to protect DACA immigrants from deportation.

Sign made for the DACA rally at USF.

Many DACA recipients are now in college, and they fear that they may be deported before being able to finish their education. Stephanie Garza, one of the organizers for the on campus DACA rally, explains why Session’s announcement is personal for some USF students.

“We know that here at USF, the estimate is between 70-100 DACA students are part of the USF community,” said Garza.

Several organizations helped plan and support the event, including College Democrats, Mi Familia Vota, For Our Future and UndocUnited. Students like Jose Flores who participated in the event wanted to show the Trump administration that college campuses support DACA students.

For Our Future was one of the many organizations that supported the DACA rally at USF.

“We wanted to show that the community will organize and protect their own, and you know, just basically show that USF opposes the decision,” said Flores. “We hope that if other people follow in our footsteps, or, you know, we all come together, if other universities have their rallies too, together we’ll, you know, amplify our voices and we’ll be heard.”

The issue of immigration hits close to home with many people who attended the event.

“Personally, I know a lot of people who are immigrants, documented, undocumented, and you know, I see how their lives could change if something was passed, and how their lives are different than other people’s because sometimes they don’t have the same opportunities as those people,” said Michelle Joseph, who is with the organization Mi Familia Vota. “So, we’re here to support the passing of the DREAM Act, and that would mean that people would get to live normal lives kind of thing, not worry about whether they’re going to be kicked out of the country kind of thing.”

Different people spoke during the event, some of whom will be directly affected by the elimination of DACA.

“My favorite part was that some people felt empowered enough to go up and speak, even though they were not listed to speak, you know, they were motivated enough to come out and say a few words,” said Flores. “Each person that comes up and speaks up only adds to the slew of voices that are coming up, that are speaking out against this kind of you know, behavior, actions from the administration.”

Students were not afraid to show their disdain for President Trump with their rally signs.

DACA recipients will be in limbo until Congress decides if it is going to instate a new program to help young unauthorized immigrants. Some are trying to renew their DACA before the Oct 5. deadline set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Applying for a renewal, however, does not ensure that they will be able to stay in the United States for the remainder of their DACA eligibility if Congress fails to create a new program.

For many, this is frustrating and alarming.

“If you’re not upset, if you’re not enraged, then you’re not paying attention,” said Flores.

Immigration Under Trump Administration

As the American people prepare for the upcoming election, many are excited about playing a part in the democratic process. But for others, like first generation Mexican-American Paloma Narvaez, each day closer to the election is potentially one less she could have with her family and friends.
There has been a lot of discussion on both sides about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposed plan to combat people entering the country illegally. Many people, like Narvaez, who are close with numerous undocumented people in the U.S., fear for the future of the nation if Trump’s plans are put in place.
Narvaez spoke of a friend of hers, an undocumented graduate student at USF conducting research in chemistry.
“She can get deported when she’s doing so much good here,” the junior accounting major said. “How are we going to lose someone so valuable?”
Trump’s plan on his website includes building a massive border wall on the southern border of the United States, extreme vetting for entrance into the country and the ending of sanctuary cities. The majority of Americans who oppose Trump’s proposals believe they are unethical and go against what America stands for. However, Trump’s supporters believe his plan will be a way to crack down on crime and aid in the safety of our nation in the future.
Michael Varicak, a USF alumnus with a degree in business, said he has been a Trump supporter since the day he announced his candidacy. Although he is an independent voter, Varicak said Trump’s “lack of a Washington, D.C. filter” got him listening to what Trump had to say.
Varicak said in a phone interview that he believes the immigration process has to be reformed. He also said he believes that although Trump may not build the massive wall he has been describing, he will definitely strengthen border security as a whole.
“I don’t think it’s unethical to enforce a country’s boarders and security,” the recent USF graduate said. “Especially at a time when you have ISIS and other things going on.”
The most talked about aspect of Trump’s plan is building a border wall, and making Mexico pay for it. David Jacobson, Ph.D., a USF professor and expert on immigration, said he doesn’t foresee the wall happening as Trump has described to his supporters.
Jacobson said although putting up a wall is legal, it would be nearly impossible to get another country to pay for it without using coercive measures. Jacobson pointed out that these tactics would pose issues, especially since the two nations are so close.
Since Jacobson doesn’t see Mexico paying for the wall in any way, he added that if the U.S. were to undertake this task alone, it would be a giant expense.
“It would be an enormous cost,” Jacobson said. “It would involve a massive investment, so it’s not really feasible.”
Originally, another pillar of Trump’s plan was mass deportations of undocumented people in the United States as soon as he went into office. Jacobson said mass deportation would not work on a logistical or legal level.
“That’s not really practical to deport 11 million people,” Jacobson said. “Each individual has a right to due process. It just becomes much more complex to even think about that.”
Although Trump has softened his stance on that in recent months, Narvaez said many in her community and family do not believe his change of heart.
“The way he portrayed himself initially, we already know he has that bias,” Narvaez said. “What has changed from then to now to change his stance?”
Narvaez and her family have a lot riding on this election. The outcome will likely determine whether many of her family members can stay in America, or will be forced back to the small Mexican town of Mazamitla, the name of which she has tattooed across her forearm.
Narvaez said regardless of what Trump says or does going forward, she will never respect him after his comments claiming that Mexican immigrants are bringing drugs and crime to the U.S. at the start of his presidential campaign.
“That’s my family he’s talking about,” Narvaez said. “Those are people I work with and study with.”