There are a number of issues that jump out to the front in Chelsea – whether it be development, school issues or even at one time the Chelsea Housing Authority debacle.
This summer, however, one issue that has crept front and center in Chelsea is that of illegal immigration issues and the federal government’s new policy of two-year “deferred action” for young people brought to the country illegally when they were children. It’s an issue that has been below the radar for years in Chelsea, though the most important thing for those caught up in the middle of its consequences. Now, this summer, hundreds of young people have come out of the shadows of illegal immigration problems and are gathering in large numbers to learn about the government’s new program and how it can help their complicated lives.
Late last week, ROCA held an information session at its headquarters in Chelsea, and saw hundreds of young people and their parents show up not only from Chelsea, but also from other nearby locales. It has become such an issue here that Chelsea is known as the hub of information on the new program – as the City’s organizations, schools and local government are one of the few to approach the issue with a great deal of prominence.
“The immigration forum was a huge success,” said ROCA’s Victor Jose Santana. “We did have close to 500 people in attendance.”
One of those looking for information on deferred action last week was Olga Romero, an 18-year-old Chelsea High School graduate who said illegal immigration issues have turned her life upside down – and nearly drove her to completely give up on her future.
Romero said she and her mother came to Chelsea from Honduras on a visa when she was 7. They came to meet her father, whom she had never seen up to that point.
“My Dad had already come before us and was here,” she said. “I came here because I had never met my father and didn’t know him. When our visas expired, we stayed in Chelsea and never went back to Honduras. I went to all the Chelsea schools and when I graduated in 2011, I wanted to start college and couldn’t do so. Because of lack of information and not being able to find my information, I missed an entire year. I would be finishing my associates degree now but I missed the year because of this immigration situation.”
Romero said that the deferred action program gave her new hope, and after learning at the ROCA forum that she did qualify, she went right out and registered for school the next day.
“It’s given me a lot more hope,” she said.
But it hasn’t been that long ago since she felt the situation to be utterly hopeless.
“I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating this has made my life,” she said. “It got to a point a month ago that I was so frustrated I wanted to just give up. I grew up in this country and I didn’t even know my country. I’ve grown to love this country and it’s hard for me because I’m in the middle. I’m not completely Honduran to my family and I’m not completely American to some people here.
“I’m 18 and should have my driver’s license now, but I can’t because I don’t have the papers,” she continued. “I can’t go out with friends because I fear if I get in trouble, I could end up deported. I want to go to college and I don’t want to be an added financial stress to my parents, but I can’t do that because I can’t work without my papers.”
That kind of road block is exactly what leads many young people to give up on their future, immgration organizers said. It can lead them to also begin to have strained relationships within the family due to the fact that parents have put the young people in that tough situation. Romero said that is exactly what happened in her life as well, and it seems to be a common theme throughout those who are seeking to find refuge in the deferred action program.
“It has put a stress on my family life,” said Romero. “I want to go out and be normal and not have to go around looking over my shoulder all the time. My family sees me as being a rebel and not listening. To me, it’s enormously stressful to be home all the time and not being able to go out with my friends and act normal and not afraid all the time. I understand how parents worry, but at the same time it’s put frustrations between our family. Up until my junior year in high school, in fact, I blamed my father for all these things happening to us and just for being in this country in our situation.”
But still, Romero concedes that she is one of the lucky ones. Her father just got his U.S. Citizenship last month, and so she will be able to use the deferred action to relax a bit and then eventually become a U.S. Citizen through her father – putting years of trouble behind her and a brighter future ahead of her.
“I don’t know anything about Honduras and I feel more American than anything,” she said. “I guess I would be able to visit Honduras, but I could never live there.”
That thought, though, caused her to pause as she thought about the forum at ROCA.
“At least I have a chance with my Dad to become a citizen,” she said. “I think about all the kids at that forum and all the other kids in Chelsea that don’t have that opportunity and wonder what they’ll do.”