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High Schoolers Advocate for Education Access for Undocumented Students

By MegAnne Liebsch

November 11, 2019 — Yael Balbuena Basto’s voice fills with emotion as he speaks. “I am here to break the cycle of fear,” he says to an audience of fellow students and teachers at Brophy College Preparatory. “I want to be able to look at my parents and tell them, ‘Everything will be ok. We don’t have to keep living in fear.’”  

Basto is a DACA recipient — he and his parents came to the U.S. without documents, but through DACA he received working papers and protection from deportation. That changed when the Trump administration moved to end the program in 2017, arguing that DACA was unconstitutional because it wasn’t approved by Congress. On November 12, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on DACA and will decide whether the program is constitutional by spring. If the court rules against DACA, over 700,000 people may be left without documentation and at risk of deportation. 

Advocacy Club hosts an educational session about migration with fellow Brophy Prep students.

As a junior at Brophy Prep, Basto discovered he wasn’t alone. Through an event with the campus Advocacy Club, called Faces of DACA, Basto and other DACA students spoke openly about their experiences as immigrants, breaking through stigmas about immigration status. 

The event sparked an explosion of interest in immigration advocacy. Brophy Prep, a Jesuit high school in Phoenix, is particularly impacted by the issue — Advocacy Club estimates that 15 to 17 students at Brophy are undocumented or DACA recipients. 

After Faces of DACA, Basto joined the Advocacy Club’s DreamOn Campaign, which initially aimed to raise awareness and support for DACA and undocumented students on campus. As the campaign grew, though, the students turned their advocacy into action, organizing legislative meetings at the Arizona state capitol and forming coalitions with other high school activists across the state.  

“The campaign really did change everything. It changed my mentality, my purpose of life, my world,” Basto says. “The campaign really made me realize that you are never too young to advocate for what is right.” 

For Saúl Rascón Salazar, an Advocacy Club leader and a DACA recipient, the campaign transformed his high school experience. “I didn’t even know anything about politics, about my status,” he says. It was through the concerns of faculty members at Brophy Prep that Salazar began advocating on behalf of himself and other DACA recipients. “The values that Brophy promoted were the cornerstone of this campaign and my formation as a person,” he says.  

In 2018, the DreamOn Campaign partnered with Aliento, a local youth and undocumented organization, to advocate for a state bill that would provide in-state tuition to undocumented students graduating from Arizona high schools. Until then, undocumented college students paid out-of-state tuition — nearly three times that of their documented peers.  

The campaign organized walk-in demonstrations to raise awareness about the bill on campus and promoted phone-a-thons and letter-writing to Arizona state representatives voicing support for the bill. In January 2019, the campaign hosted a legislative advocacy day with high school students from across Arizona, pushing their representatives to support reduced tuition. 

Members of the DreamOn Campaign lobby for migrant education access with their state representative's office.

“Seeing everyone present, who took the time to be there — for a lot of them it was their first time interacting with legislators and fighting for something, especially something as controversial as immigration — I felt a sense of hope,” says Salazar. “I thought, ‘Wow these people are really willing to support, not just post on Instagram.’” 

When the bill didn’t pass the state senate, students felt a personal blow. “It was all of our hard work put into a piece of paper,” says Basto. “I expected everyone to say yes, but there were a lot of people that said no, and it really did feel like a slap to the face.” 

In August 2019, however, the Arizona Board of Regents voted to establish a reduced tuition rate for undocumented students in Arizona, lowering their yearly tuition from about $30,000 a year to about $16,000.  

Director of Ignatian Service and Advocacy at Brophy, Will Bratt, credits the board’s decision to “the energy, passion and attention that the students brought to the movement. I would highlight this, thus far, as the most life-giving work that I have done as an educator. This is an example of how privileged institutions can leverage their privilege?and resources to create and enact social change.” 

Saúl Rascón Salazar speaks about his experiences as a DACA recipient and Campaign leader at a local school.

Salazar received the news via text message just after he moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University. It was an especially happy moment to know the campaign played a part in the decision, he says.  

Now, Salazar has turned his attention to the Supreme Court hearings on DACA. “I worry because it’s my life,” he says. “I think it’s time we look at this issue as a bipartisan issue.” Regardless of the Supreme Court outcome, Salazar says DACA is a temporary status — it must be renewed every two years and does not offer a pathway to citizenship. “It’s a bipartisan issue that needs to be fixed before things get out of hand,” he adds. “We’re starting to see that with the undocumented population increasing.” 

On November 12, members of the Jesuit network will gather at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, to show support for DACA recipients. Learn more about how you can join us or take action in your community through the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Prayers of Hope Campaign





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