Gary Francisco Keller Ph.D.

Student lives damaged, national resources squandered

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In 2004, four students at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, all  undocumented immigrants, experienced the sweet smell of success.

Members of the Falcon Robotics Club team, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan and Luis Aranda, traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., for the National Underwater Robotics Challenge for the first time, ambitiously choosing the highest competitive level. Unexpectedly, the Falcons took first place in technical writing. Overall, the MIT engineering school from Boston Harbor took SECOND place. The Falcon Robotics Club of Carl Hayden High School took the big piñata: FIRST PLACE.

High school teachers and club sponsors Faridodin “Fredi” Lajvardi and Dr. Allan Cameron sent out press releases. The response? Barely a yawn. The following year came Josh Davis’s story in Wired Magazine (April 2005) and Reader’s Digest May 2006 special issue, “America’s 100 Best Inspiring Stories and American People,” including the Falcons. ABC Nightline with George Stephanopoulos covered the achievement in May 2005. In November 2005, celebrating the 25-year partnership of ASU’s Hispanic Research Center, the College Board, and the Educational Testing Service, $10,000 was awarded to the Falcon Robotics Club.

These days both the students’ successes and profound disappointments are news on NPR, the Arizona Republic and other media sources.

Oscar Vazquez is a guy who prevails. He  came to the United States when he was 12 years old. He joined Junior ROTC in the ninth grade and planned a military career, but learned he was ineligible. He stuck with ROTC anyway. The Falcon Robotics Club became his salvation and guided his future. At least for a while.

Vazquez studied engineering with an ASU scholarship. He was featured in the recruitment brochure. In 2006, Arizona passed a law barring undocumented students from receiving state financial aid. Vazquez had to start paying out-of-state tuition. He worked in construction and received private donations and scholarships. Oscar was determined to resolve his indocumentado status. He was being denied college internships.

In 2009, President Barack Obama gave the ASU commencement address and personally recognized the graduates with extraordinary achievements, Oscar included. As he received his 2009 diploma, Obama and ASU President Michael Crow shook his hand and extended encouragement. The stadium roared with applause.

About 60,000 undocumented high school students graduate annually. The 2010 DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors), seeks to grant legal status to immigrants who came to the United States as children and went to college or joined the military. In his July 2010 speech in Raleigh, N.C., Obama expressed support of the DREAM Act.

After graduation, Oscar turned himself in to la migra and moved to Mexico, leaving his wife, Karla, a U.S. citizen, and his baby daughter in Phoenix. He works blue collar in Mexico. He wants to return legally, although he can relocate to another country where he will find professional work easily. Someday the federal bureaucracy will decide whether Oscar can, if that day ever comes.

Will we reject a U.S.-educated engineer, recognized by the media and by President Obama, and fiercely devoted to the United States? It is economically counterproductive, logically twisted and morally wrong to squander the resources of Oscar Vazquez and the other 60,000 kids whom we have nurtured from childhood.

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