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.
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Santamaría's former college counselor, Emmi Harward, helped him defer acceptance to Fordham. The gap year came and went quickly. Today he's working in a Tijuana call center, helping frustrated Americans deal with cellphone issues.Skip to next paragraph
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His mother worries he'll regret moving back to Mexico.
Yet he doesn't think so – despite the fact that in June 2012, President Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum into law. It offers legal status to those who have been brought illegally to the US as children, like Santamaría. He would have qualified, meaning he could have become a naturalized US citizen if he'd remained in San Diego.
And now Congress is considering an amnesty that would offer legalization to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Santamaría says he was trying to do the right thing by following the rules.
"I've always said that there is a proper way to do things for a reason," he says. "I am the most indecisive person you will meet, yet this decision was one of the least difficult."
He does admit, however, that "I now have a real sense as to why there is so much opposition to legalization.
"Let's say I start the process tomorrow through a family member to gain documentation, and then tomorrow Congress passes an IRCA 2.0 that legalizes people in the US and would have legalized me," he posits, referring to the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that offered amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants living in the US.
"Yes, it would feel like a slight. After all, I did the 'right' thing…. And yet now, I am the 'fool' who decided to leave and follow the correct procedural avenues instead of staying undocumented, living in the shadows."
But, he says, "I was not going to stay and wait around for legislators to pass a bill. I followed US politics too much to wait for that."
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Eventually, the 19-year-old believes, he'll return to the US – but with authorization. In the meantime, Santamaría dreams of becoming a journalist, and is steadfastly hunting for internship opportunities here in this Mexican border city.
But in doing so, he faces yet another hurdle: He's not fluent in Spanish.