The Associated Students of Portland State University recently elected Luis Balderas Villagrana to a one-year term as president, beginning June 1.
Balderas Villagrana came to the United States in 2004 as a first-grader and eventually enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants recipients a temporary stay from being deported. The uncertainty surrounding the program following the election of President Donald Trump caused the young man to become active in politics.
The Portland Tribune asked Balderas Villagrana how his immigration status has affected his life and what he sees as the path moving forward — both for himself and for the country.
Tribune: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? How old are you? What's your major? When did you start at PSU and when do you expect to graduate?
Balderas Villagrana: I am originally from central Mexico and have lived in Eastern Oregon for over 14 years. I am 21 years old and currently attending Portland State University. I am double majoring in Global Studies: Middle East Focus and Political Science. I started my college education at PSU in 2016 and since then have been involved with student government. I expect to graduate in 2020 and will seek to get my master's in London, England.
Tribune: How were you able to attend PSU? Did you get scholarships? Parents saved up?
Balderas Villagrana: To be able to attend PSU, I have received scholarships from the university and my community in Eastern Oregon. Since my freshman year of high school I knew I wanted to attend college and therefore I gained employment and saved up to be able to attend this university. Currently, I am working for the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship as a student helper with two large competitions: PSU Cleantech Challenge & InventOR. I have received many great opportunities to achieve my financial needs.
Tribune: Do you feel safe being "out" as a Dreamer? Do your parents?
Balderas Villagrana: In the current political climate, I do not feel safe being "out" as a Dreamer. There is always fear of being targeted and potential deportation, although along with this fear comes hope that some day the situations of thousands of individuals in this program will change. Being public about my status empowers me to force our representatives at the state and federal level to keep seeking a permanent solution to the program. Individuals under this program deserve to stay in this country as it has become our home, and like we always say, "We are here to stay!"
Tribune: What do you think the policy solution is for DACA?
Balderas Villagrana: The solution is simple and clear. A path to citizenship must become available to not only DACA recipients but also to the 11 million undocumented individuals in this country. Undocumented immigrants have the right to be accepted in this country, as they too have given so much to make this country what it is today. Becoming a citizen is not about taking the benefits of the system, it is about allowing people to stay in a country that is their home. This is not about political ideology, it's about allowing people to have a chance in this country to survive.
Tribune: How do you feel about your experience at PSU? What have they done right? What do they need to work on? What do educational institutions need to be doing to get more people of color to the graduation line?
Balderas Villagrana: Portland State University is a place that allows students to be themselves and grow as leaders. My time here has shown me the importance of listening to those around me and to help them get the resources they need. Each student here is unique and deserves the opportunity to succeed.
One thing I would say that PSU needs to work on is making this university affordable for all students to attend and provide adequate resources to all.
To get more people of color (to) the graduation line, universities need to do more than just seek to be diverse and inclusive. It is great when a university has a high number of diverse students, but it is disappointing when these universities do not give people of color the adequate resources to keep them enrolled and on track to graduation. There is more work to do and I as PSU's student body president will advocate to ensure that these students have what they need to graduate.
Tribune: How do you respond to criticism of sanctuary policies? Won't these just encourage more people to cheat the rules and bring their kids without going through proper channels?
Balderas Villagrana: Sanctuary policies do not fully protect undocumented immigrants. Nor do they encourage criminal disobedience, or encourage more people to cheat the rules and bring their kids without going through the proper channels. These policies are set in place to protect those who are here following the law. I see these policies as protesting the federal government on their neglect to fix our immigration system founded on racism and stereotypes. Furthermore, these policies do not guarantee protection, so there is no sense that it will encourage individuals to bring their children without the proper documentation. Sanctuary policies are not a form of amnesty — it is a way to protect innocent people from being deported on racist and discriminatory policies.
Tribune: What do you feel is the biggest myth, misperception or misrepresentation that the public seems to have about DACA or Dreamers?
Balderas Villagrana: Dreamers are not here to steal your jobs or benefits. We are here to succeed and help our communities. Dreamers/DACA recipients are not criminals, as it has been proved after being accepted into the DACA program that has strict requirements. We are not strangers; we are the people around you, your friends, neighbors, family. We didn't choose to come here on our own, we were brought here to protect us from violence in our home countries, usually caused by U.S. foreign policy. The lack of citizenship does not make us any different from the public.
As Dreamers we will keep fighting until our voices are heard and we will succeed!
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