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A teen’s immigration reform: Seeing amnesty as long shot, he self deports

An undocumented San Diego teen who graduated from an elite prep school saw uncertainty in his future and no sure thing in immigration reform and amnesty – so he did 'the right thing' and made the decision to self deport.

By Erin SiegalContributor / April 7, 2013

Sergio Santamaria (in tie at center) with his family at his May 2011 graduation from an elite private school in La Jolla, Calif. This story is part of the cover story project on immigration amnesty in the April 8 issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly magazine.

Courtesy Sergio Santamaria

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Tijuana, Mexico

At 18, Sergio Santamaría was in a place most American high school seniors dream of. Thanks to a financial need-based scholarship, he'd gotten an excellent education from an elite prep school, The Bishop's School in La Jolla, Calif. He'd been on the honor roll, served as a student ambassador tour guide, and had also been accepted to two well-ranked colleges: The George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and Fordham University, in New York City.

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But Mr. Santamaría had been brought into the United States from Mexico as a baby. He'd been undocumented his entire life, and the vulnerability of an uncertain future weighed heavily on him.

Late in the evening on his graduation day, May 31, 2011, he took an irreversible step. He self-deported.

Santamaría's experience speaks to some of the various moral and legal issues Congress is now grappling with as it considers a possible legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"I always knew it was going to happen, eventually," he says of his choice to leave the US. "That realization came early during senior year. I submitted applications to colleges and to different financial aid funds, with the knowledge that I would be going to Tijuana after the year was done."

He didn't want to invest himself in an adult life that could be threatened, at any moment, by deportation.

His family initially questioned his decision. His mother, a green-card holder, had already moved back to Tijuana during Santamaría's junior year, because of the lower cost of living there.

Santamaría's two younger sisters also lived in Mexico. Being apart from them was hard, as was living with his grandmother.

"My high school always seemed to be the only place where I really belonged," he says. "Ambition drove people there and drove me as well. I wanted to be someone…. However, I thought to myself, 'I can stay [in the US] and be someone…. But I will not be able to drive, to go to college without amassing huge debt, and to do a litany of things that might seem insignificant to others but meant the world to me.' "

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