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First-year student and DACA recipient fights oppression with civic action and resiliency

ASU engineering major Angel Palazuelos advocates for himself and other Dreamers

ASU student Angel Palazuelos

ASU biomedical engineering major Angel Palazuelos.

October 01, 2020

It was during Angel Palazuelos’ first year of high school that he realized his life wasn’t the same as his friends’ and peers.’ Born in Culiacán, Mexico, Palazuelos arrived in the United States with his mother and brother on a tourist visa in 2006 and has lived in the Valley ever since.

He graduated from Metro Tech High School in Phoenix, but facing the realities of college applications as an undocumented student, Palazuelos saw how many doors were closed to him, including public scholarships and in-state tuition.

“That was when I kind of began to see that I was different, that although my peers and I shared the same morals and grew up together, read the same books, we were different, and I was going to experience hardships that they wouldn't,” he said. 

Yet one of Palazuelos’ biggest goals was to go to college. He is now studying engineering in his first year at Arizona State University; he has spent the last several years building community among undocumented students and wants to make sure the students coming up after him know they should set big goals for their education and their lives — and that they’re not alone.  

As a young kid, Palazuelos’ mom talked with him about what would happen if they got in trouble, even something as commonplace as a fender bender. He said that it was a heavy burden to know they could be taken away from their home at any second and that to a lot of people, he wasn't truly American. It was isolating.  

“It felt like I was the only one going through it; it felt like I was alone, that the world chose me specifically,” he said.  

Eventually, Palazuelos realized that he wasn’t the only one going through it, that there were other people experiencing what he was experiencing. During his junior year of high school, Palazuelos got involved with Puente Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Aliento to build hope and progress. 

Palazuelos started showing seniors and other undocumented students how to apply for scholarships while he was applying with his friends. He began to organize events for Aliento and addressed Dreamers all over the country as a speaker at Aliento’s virtual commencement for undocumented graduates. Working with Puente, Palazuelos helped start a petition to get school resource officers off campuses in his school district because of concerns about how students were being treated, and he has led demonstrations at the Phoenix Police Department and the ICE detention center, among other civic actions. 

During his work with these organizations, Palazuelos learned about all the various laws that limit undocumented students, and he began to feel very passionate about advocating for DACA (Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals) recipients, not only because it affected him but because it affected his peers as well. 

“The system is the one we need to dismantle. That’s why we need to fight these little battles,” he said. 

Since Palazuelos has lived in uncertainty all his life, he said he can better cope with it now. Despite this, trauma still follows him around because his immigration status means he doesn’t have any guarantees about being able to stay in the place he calls home or even his employability after graduation. He doesn’t know what will happen next. 

“There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle, and if one piece is to go missing, it could potentially leave me lost on my college journey,” he said.

Scholarships made it possible for him to pursue his undergraduate degree starting this fall. Despite the adversity Palazuelos has faced, he is hopeful and tries to stay optimistic. Palazuelos hopes that the legislature will pass a law for Dreamers. He feels hopeful for his future as a college student at ASU, and he feels grateful for all the opportunities he has had so far and plans to plug in to the student advocacy community at ASU. (In addition to Undocumented Students for Education Equity and the Aliento student organization, ASU’s DREAMzone offers peer-to-peer support for undocumented students, DACA recipients and students with families of mixed immigration status.)

Palazuelos’ goals are to work as an engineer, get his work visa and green card someday, continue with community organizing and eventually start his own scholarship and his own organization and go to law school. 

For other undocumented students, Palazuelos’ advice is that they should just remain hopeful. They may need to work 10 times as hard, he said, but if they find their passion, that will drive them to their end goal.

“Know that it’ll all eventually be worth it,” he said. 

Written by Austin Davis, Sun Devil Storyteller. Reporting by Hannah Moulton Belec, EOSS Marketing

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