Many groups were involved in the Martin Luther King Jr. March Monday, Jan. 17. While many groups symbolically marched for equality, the San Antonio Immigrant Youth Movement (SAIYM) was marching for opportunity.
Getting a college education can be a daunting task for many students. For several undocumented students, getting through college became even more difficult when they were faced with the risk of deportation.
“I do struggle with a sort of identity crisis,” said junior Mexican-American studies major Diego Mancha. “There are times when I consider myself to be very Mexican and there are times when I like to label myself as Mexican-American.”
Mancha serves as the director for SAIYM. The organization began in 2012 after a hunger strike by a group of undocumented students. The strike was intended to urge Texas senators to vote in favor of the DREAM Act — a law that would grant legal status to undocumented youth who entered the U.S. as children, graduated from high school and attended college or entered the military.
When the Dream Act did not pass, SAIYM was formed to maintain political activism for Dreamers — undocumented youth seeking legal status. The organization is primarily community based, but has chapters at both UTSA and San Antonio College.
As a university that lies close to the U.S.-Mexico border, UTSA has a large Hispanic population. In 2013, 47 percent of UTSA students were identified as Hispanic — the largest ethnic demographic.
When Mancha first came to UTSA, he was inspired to become politically active after engaging with members of an organization called Beyond Borders.
“We started talking and I thought, ‘Wow, this is something I can do and contribute to rather than just turning on the TV and seeing what is happening.’”
Students who join SAIYM as undocumented students are often given the name “Dreamers.” “It’s a name you give to a group of people who have a desire to have the American Dream,” said Mancha, who considers himself to be a Dreamer.
For Dreamers like Mancha, the closest thing to citizenship comes from Deferred Action, a program similar to the DREAM Act, but without the benefit of residency.
In order to qualify for Deferred Action, students must prove they arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, lived in the U.S. for more than five years and graduated from an accredited Texas high school, passed the GED exam or were honorably discharged from the armed forces.
Mancha moved to the U.S. from Mexico City in 2002 after his mother decided to seek better economic opportunities across the border. It was his mother, Mancha claims, who motivated him to pursue a college education.
However, even in college, undocumented students encounter barriers not felt by other students.
“It’s like a handicap of sorts. It’s like you always have one hand tied behind your back,” said Mancha.
“I think the government and different entities put us under a magnifying glass. Anything we do can be misconstrued. I think we walk this fine line where you can’t do things you normally would.” Minor violations, such as a speeding ticket, can potentially put undocumented students in danger of deportation.
Health insurance in particular has been a source of difficulty for undocumented students such as Mancha. Immigrants have the option to purchase health care through a private provider but do not qualify for government assistance, nor are they allowed to enter the marketplace through the Affordable Care Act.
Other limitations for undocumented students arise in the form of prejudices. “People put this stereotype on you that you’re a criminal,” said Mancha. “That was something I struggled with growing up, not knowing how people would react.”
Most recently, UTSA’s SAIYM was preparing to combat the highly controversial “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game proposed by the UT Young Conservatives in Austin. The game was not carried out, but SAIYM prepared a counter protest in the event that the game was also played at UTSA. While the group was offended, Mancha admitted, “It is what it is. I can’t change their minds or win them over.”
The ultimate goal for UTSA SAIYM is to have a more inclusive environment for undocumented students. The group hopes to establish a safe space on campus, similar to organizations like GLBTQ. “There are different emotional and psychological stresses in keeping part of your identity away from people and just having to deal with society in a way that other people really don’t,” said Mancha.
Currently, UTSA SAIYM is working on holding a deferred action clinic for undocumented students to receive free legal advice when filling out paperwork