This story was originally published in May of 2015.
Getting high grades and being involved is a necessity for this generation as gaining acceptance to college is getting harder and harder.
For some students, though, their hard work and commitment to their education could fall flat due to their citizenship status.
“At school, I didn’t talk about my citizenship status,” Giancarlo Tejeda, a senior at Miami Lakes Educational Center said. “It wasn’t something that I wanted to define me and it wasn’t something that could be fixed by complaining about it so I just kept quiet.”
Giancarlo and his family left their native town of Bucaramanga, Colombia in December of 2000, when he was just three years old.
His parents left behind noble careers to pursue a new life in Miami, Florida.
“My parents had to give up their careers in Colombia to become simple laborers. My father was a college professor and my mother was a primary school teacher,” Tejeda said.
In America, his father found jobs in construction and his mother often found herself cleaning houses.
They applied for asylum in the United States, but to no avail, and thus became undocumented immigrants.
According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, unauthorized immigrants comprised 4.8% of Florida’s population in 2012 and in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the foreign-born share of Florida’s population rose to 19.4%.
It is no question that the state of Florida is home to many immigrants—many of which are hard workers like Tejeda and his family.
Giancarlo’s Advanced Placement Literature teacher, Neyda Borges, makes it known that these students are not just a number through her work and advocacy for immigrant students.
“We need to see and hear the human stories. We need to meet these children and these parents,” Borges said. “People need to see that these undocumented immigrants are not monsters or criminals, but that they are our friends and neighbors.“
Determined to be more than just a number and his legal standing- a DREAMer with deferred action status- Tejeda focuses on his studies and extracurricular activities. Giancarlo challenged himself with a full schedule of college level courses and excelled.
As an aspiring biomedical engineer- a career that merges his natural altruism and love for the sciences- Tejeda recently committed to the University of Florida.
Through local and even national support he has raised enough money to attend UF for the first year.
His teacher, Borges helped him create a page where the community could chip in at https://www.gofundme.com/rb6p5dtg.
He’s excited, but he says that he still feels frustrated about his legal status.
“Despite not being considered legal in the eyes of the United States Government, we are still part of the communities that we live in. I feel as I always have felt about my legal status – frustrated,” Tejeda said.
Borges’ admits that she’s learned of many activists groups and organizations that are out there to support DREAMers like Tejeda.
“There is a lot being done; but, is it enough? I don’t know how to answer that,” Borges said. “That’s a political question. Luckily, I am not a politician. So, as a teacher, the answer is that it is never enough.”
Students like Giancarlo are eligible for in-state tuition to UF or any other state university thanks to a correction by the Florida Legislature in 2014, but many like the Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Schools who is no stranger to advocating for high achieving immigrant students, remain adamant in their quest to make sure that change happens sooner than later.
“A bright student like Giancarlo deserves the chance to fulfill his college dreams,” Superintendent of Schools Alberto M. Carvalho said. “Like many of us, his family came here for better opportunities. We must enact reform immediately.”
Giancarlo and his family are thankful for the support from political leaders and local and national media, but remain aware that the future is untold.
They hope that an easier route to citizenship will one day be a reality and that their obstacles may serve as inspiration to others.
The Miami-Dade County Public School system has almost 350,000 active students and inevitably there are more students like Tejeda who haven’t spoken out yet.
Tejeda said that his message to them is important.
“Don’t be afraid. There is a whole community out there supporting you,” the 18- year old Tejeda said. “You will find that many people will support you if you speak out and make your situation known. If enough of us speak out, our voices will be heard everywhere and it will incite change.”
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Cover Photo Credit: Giancarlo Tejeda/ Facebook