Undocumented students to share their DREAMs

In 2002, when German Cadenas boarded a plane in Venezuela with his mother and younger brother for a trip to the United States to spend Christmas with his father, Cadenas did not know that they wouldn’t be coming back.

And neither did his mother or brother. After they arrived in Arizona, the family learned that political unrest was growing in Venezuela, and that there were fears of a dictatorship.

So, German and his mother and brother tore up their return plane tickets and overstayed their visas, just as his father had done several years earlier. Now they were reunited as a family in America, albeit an undocumented one.

German, then 15, left behind most of his clothes, and his dog. And his grandmother, and other family members. It was a difficult time for him, but he decided to make the best of it.

He enrolled in high school and worked hard to make good grades. Then, it was time for college – and the biggest shock of his life: He didn’t have a passport, and therefore, he couldn’t enroll at ASU. He was undocumented. All he could do was take a few classes at a community college, work and save his money. And dream.

Today, Cadenas is completing his first year of a doctoral program at ASU and helping plan an event that will, he hopes, help other students who were in his situation.

“The Dream: The Whole Story” will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., April 19, in the Memorial Union Ventana Ballroom. The free event is open to the public.

“Dream” participants will tell the real stories of DREAMers (undocumented youths); discuss the impact that immigration laws have on education; and talk about the next efforts to support DREAMers in their journey toward higher education in Arizona.

Sponsors include the Emeritus College, Graduate and Professional Student Association, Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association, Students United for Fair Rights and Greater Equality, School of Social Transformation, Asian Pacific American Studies, Justice & Social Inquiry, ASU Jewish Studies, School of Transborder Studies and the School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Keynote speaker will be James Rund, senior vice president for educational outreach and student services, who will discuss ASU’s efforts on behalf of DREAMers.

Also speaking will be Carlos Amador, project coordinator for UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center, who will talk about his center’s mission “to promote equal access to education and progressive local and national policy by organizing and developing educational resources, support, and leadership development for immigrant students across the country.”

UCLA’s Dream Resource Center runs a national internship program, Dream Summer, which provides scholarship opportunities for immigrant youth leaders, Amador said. “We do policy analysis and research on issues affecting undocumented students. We also published the first book on undocumented students stories, ‘Underground Undergrads,’ which is now in its third printing.

The April 19 event will conclude with a forum titled “What Can We Do Now as an ASU Community?” Panelists will be Rund, Amador and Daniel Rodriguez, an undocumented ASU graduate who is now a law student at ASU.

Registration for “The Dream: The Whole Story” is required. Go to bit.ly/dreamrsvp.

Cadenas said he was denied application by ASU three times because of his immigration status. “I was heartbroken and depressed,” he said. “I had been in sports, clubs, and a leadership program in high school. I felt I had done all that work for nothing.”

He considered returning to Venezuela, but decided to stay and fight. He took classes at a community college and worked and saved his money.

When Arizona voters passed Proposition 300 in November 2006, Cadenas was accepted to ASU. The difference, he said, was that “Arizona now had a procedure to deal with undocumented students by charging out of state tuition.”

Since he had to pay the much higher out of state tuition, he worked and scraped the money together as best he could. “For my last year at ASU, I received a private scholarship from the American Dream Fund,” he said.

Cadenas graduated in 2009 with degrees in business and psychology, but couldn’t get a job in either of his fields. “So I started to volunteer in labs and got interested in graduate school.”

To help pay for his master’s program, Cardenas tried to raise funds on his own. “I started a blog and people started donating. Non-profits started helping.”

He applied for ASU’s doctoral program in counseling psychology, and was one of six students accepted. He received a private scholarship to help pay for his first year, and then another major event occurred: He met a young woman who was also working in opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070, and fell in love. They were married, and he now is a documented resident of the United States.

But Cadenas is still deeply committed to helping other young DREAMers as they work to pass the Dream Act and seek to begin their lives as contributing members of society, not as bright young people hidden in the shadows.

Barry Leshowitz, a member of the Emeritus College and committee member for “The Dream: The Whole Story,” said part of the purpose of the event is “to find ways for people to help,” to get them to sign up beyond the emotion of the evening.

“There is a lot of support at ASU but it’s been unofficial. These people need to be connected to see what can be done.”

Support for the DREAMers is crucial, Leshowitz added. “The problems faced by undocumented youth are real, widespread, and often devastating. Unable to obtain resident tuition rates, undocumented high school graduates in Arizona no longer can afford to attend college.

“This is not only a personal tragedy for these students, but losing some of the best and the brightest is a great loss to the state and to the nation. We anticipate that ‘The Dream: The Whole Story’ will kick-start an initiative aimed at galvanizing the resources of the ASU community on behalf of highly qualified undocumented students who wish to have a fair chance to contribute to their community.”