Convening Our Talents! The Third Annual CASA Youth Summit

By Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, Ed.D., Senior Director, Education, NCLR

CASA_blogpic1The academic year for 2014-15 is coming to a close but the learning and activities continue for students in the Cultura, Aprendizaje, Servicio, Acción (CASA) service-learning project. On May 27-28, nearly 60 CASA coordinators and students from five NCLR Affiliate sites gathered in Los Angeles for the Annual CASA Youth Summit. The goal of the Summit was to provide students with a youth-centered program that invited networking, the exchange of ideas and a space to reflect on their signature service-learning projects.

A chief goal o f the CASA project is to expose middle school students to new experiences-socially, culturally and academically. To do that this year, the Youth Summit kicked-off activities at the historical Chavez Ravine-home of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Our staff worked with the Dodgers’ Community Relations team to personalize the students’ visit to the ballpark with customized admission tickets and a running a score board message that read, “Welcome NCLR CASA Students.” The Dodgers ultimately lost their baseball game, but it didn’t damper student spirits as they reported having a “good time” at the game and enjoying the overall experience.

Summit attendees at Dodger Stadium

Summit attendees at Dodger Stadium

CASA_blogpic3On day two, students focused on the core of the Youth Summit, the CASA project expo. All school year, students focused on a genuine need in their community. To help identify that need, teachers guided students through the service-learning cycle and implemented the revised CASA curriculum to ground the service-learning projects in academic learning and cultural relevance to the Latino community. Students presented their projects that covered an array of topics including: agents of change, healthy living, poverty & homelessness, Latino voting patterns, and the meaning of an educated democracy. The projects were simply impressive. The topics addressed by these middle school students are dense and layered with complexities. Still, they were able to synthesize the information gathered, identify the need in their community, and implement service projects to address the need.

CASA_blogpic4In one case, students forged partnerships with organizations to build an urban garden and produce organic produce. They taught the community about healthy food options to help with the prevailing health issues in the Latino community like diabetes and cholesterol. Another CASA site conducted an analysis of the gap between eligible Latino voters and those who actually voted during the last presidential election. This information was used to develop a brochure that informs community members about the importance of voting and encourages youth to register to vote. Still, another site identified immigration as a pressing issue in their community and invited an immigration attorney to speak to parents and community members about Executive Orders like Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

It is comforting to know that our Latino youth are thinking critically about issues that impact their respective community and taking steps to address these issues through advocacy and action. We can all play a role, big or small, in this effort through mentorship, partnership, sponsorship or volunteering in a service action. So ask yourself, what can I do to uplift the Latino community through service-learning?

We Remain Committed to Keeping Families Together

Demonstrators joined our Affiliate, Latin American Coalition, in North Carolina last week for a DAPA Day of Action, part of rallies that happened all across the country.

Demonstrators joined our Affiliate, Latin American Coalition, in North Carolina last week for a DAPA Day of Action, part of rallies that happened all across the country.

This week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Department of Justice’s request for an emergency stay to lift an injunction against the president’s administrative relief programs, expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), so they could move forward. The court’s decision leaves in limbo millions of American families as they wait to apply for the two programs.

This is not the end of legal proceedings on this matter, however, as an appeal of the preliminary injunction is scheduled for the week of July 6. While this is a setback, this is not the end of the long and arduous legal road. It is important to note that the Fifth Circuit Court has still not decided on the full appeal of the case to lift the injunction.

“Our community remains steadfast in our commitment to keeping hardworking families together,” said Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, NCLR Deputy Vice President of the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation, in a statement. “Not only will these executive actions bring relief to millions of American families, they are in the best interest of this nation’s economy and national security.”

Martinez-De-Castro further highlighted how those who are blocking relief in order to settle a score with the president are alienating the large and influential voting bloc of Latinos who “will remember these very personal attacks on our families and our community come Election Day,” said Martínez-De-Castro. “It should not be lost on anyone that a key function of the president is to nominate federal judges, and for the Senate to ‘advise and consent’ to those nominations. We will continue to remind our community that by exercising their power at the ballot box, they can help determine who will be making judicial decisions that, with the stroke of a pen, can snatch potential lawful status away from millions.”

DACA Made a Future Nurse’s Dreams Become Reality

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By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

When Jose Aguiluz was 15, he was involved in a severe car accident in his native Honduras. Desperate for help, his aunt contacted doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The staff were able to perform the required surgery, and it wasn’t long before Jose and his aunt traveled from Honduras to the United States. His immediate family joined soon after so they could be by his side before and after the procedure.

The surgery came at a great cost, however. Jose’s parents had to sell everything they owned to pay for it and to be with him.

That was almost 10 years ago. Yet it was a fateful event for many reasons. During his stay at the prestigious medical facility, Jose discovered his passion for medicine. It also marked the beginning of a new life.

Jose remained in the U.S.—a decision that was beyond his control—and in time his visa expired. Despite the hardships brought on by his undocumented status, Jose proved to be a spectacular student. Although his status barred him from receiving financial aid, Jose managed to find jobs to pay his tuition and fees at Montgomery College. His workday started at 5:00 a.m., followed by classes at night.

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When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established, Jose knew he had an opportunity to finally achieve his potential. He chose to pursue a nursing degree and was dedicated to making this dream come true, no matter what obstacles were in his way.

“Education is the path we have to become someone in our lives,” said Jose.

Jose continued to balance work and school once he started his nursing education. Despite a hectic schedule, he became active in his community too. He worked to pass the Maryland DREAM Act by canvassing neighborhoods and encouraging people to get out the vote. This civic experience made the DACA announcement that much more special for Jose.

On the day President Obama introduced DACA, Jose went to NCLR Affiliate CASA de Maryland to talk with fellow youth organizers and share in the victory they had worked so hard to achieve. He filled out his DACA application, anxious to receive his work permit and finally advance toward his dreams. The best part was being able to take his board examinations. Since January 2014, Jose has been employed at Washington Adventist Hospital as a registered nurse.

Jose has already achieved much, but the 23-year-old is just getting started. He continues to contribute to his community as a member of Casa’s board of directors. He is also continuing his studies and plans to pursue an advanced degree in public health at the school where it all started: Johns Hopkins University.

Without DACA, Jose knows that getting to this point would have been nearly impossible, and he pleads with Congress and the 26 states that have blocked DACA expansion and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. “Only by removing these roadblocks can we show everyone what we’re capable of,” he says.

Gaby Gomez, NCLR Communications Department intern, contributed to this blog post.

Living the American DREAM: Emilio Vicente

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Today we are starting a weekly series highlighting people who have come forward and applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as well as those who will be coming forward to apply for expanded DACA or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). Since President Obama announced DACA in 2012, more than 638,000 people have received deferred action, meaning they can live without the fear of deportation and continue their contributions with a work permit. While DACA does not provide a path to citizenship, we know that it has been transformative as recipients are able to pursue their dreams and improve their economic well-being.

The expansion of DACA and DAPA has brought hope to millions of immigrants and families, including those who were initially unable to apply for DACA because they were over the age of 31. The president’s plan to expand DACA and establish DAPA would let up to 5.2 million more people live without the fear of losing a loved one due to deportation policies. When he announced that he was using his legitimate authority, we heard from our network that administrative relief would change their lives and keep their families together.

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Emilio Vicente (in blue) with Eva Longoria (left), NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía, and MSNBC anchor, Jose Diaz-Balart (right) at the 2013 NCLR Annual Conference

One person who has benefited from DACA and who has created incredible opportunities to give back to his community is Emilio Vicente. Emilio grew up in North Carolina and is currently a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We met him back in 2010 when he was regularly traveling from North Carolina to Washington, DC, to share his story with his senators and urging them to support the DREAM Act. Emilio became a regular at his senators’ events; the senators and their staff knew that he was there to deliver a message of the DREAM Act’s implications for him and for his state. He continued his advocacy efforts for immigration reform, joining NCLR during the National Latino Advocacy Days in 2011, and serving as a member of the NCLR Líderes Youth Advisory Committee. He also participated in a town hall panel at the NCLR Annual Conference in New Orleans alongside NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía and Eva Longoria.

During this time, Emilio has worked at competitive internships in Seattle and Washington, DC, and has raised money for scholarships for undocumented youth. Last year, Emilio ran for UNC student body president and drew the attention of national press in doing so. The New York Times reporter who spent time with him during the campaign described Emilio as a “one-man whirlwind of engagement.”

On what DACA has meant for him, Emilio said:

“DACA for me means not being under the threat of deportation at any moment and being able to use my degree once I graduate. I can also sleep better at night knowing that my brothers and sisters-in-law, who qualify for DAPA, won’t be deported and separated from their families at any moment. We need a humane immigration bill that is permanent but until then, DACA and DAPA will protect many of us from the separation of our families.”

Once he graduates in the spring, Emilio hopes to continue advocating for immigration reform in Washington, DC. Receiving DACA will allow him to put his incredible talent and experience to use—so Washington better look out!