Updated Nov. 13, 2:45 p.m.
Correction: Alina Cortes’ last name is spelled with an s instead of a z. The story has been updated to reflect the change.
Alina Cortes, 22, psychology senior and a founder of the A&M-San Antonio Students United for the Dream Act, attended a congressional briefing in Washington D.C. There, she met with four congressmen to talk about the current status of immigration reform.
Beltran: Why did you travel to Washington to attend the Oct. 23 congressional briefing?
Cortes: I was asked to go up as part of the DREAM army movement. Within the DREAM movement, I help lead the people who want to join the military. At the congressional briefing we had four different congressman speak about the importance of immigration reform, for not only current soldiers but also for veterans: Mike Coffman, R-Colorado; Luis Gutiérrez, D-Illinois; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona; and David Valadao, R-California. We concentrated on the breaking up of families for veterans who are currently in the battlefield and how it would affect them. Most of them are legalized, one of the first casualties of the Iraq war was an undocumented immigrant. The real focus was a general immigration reform and how that would affect current and future soldiers. It would let them serve, but there’s a lot of current soldiers whose families are being deported. One soldier after being honorably discharged, said ‘I was in war; I had to come back to support my sister from being deported; I couldn’t be a soldier anymore.’
Representatives from America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, included their perspective to include in the reform a pathway for students who want to be soldiers specifically. How much more patriotic can you get? As for the rally, all we did was walk to the Capitol, and on the way to the briefing, shared our story.
Beltran: What are your hopes for immigration reform?
Cortes: The nation is pretty much ready, including 60 percent of the general public. People everywhere endorse it. What’s left is to stop playing games and making excuses. There have been schools getting bombed and shot, and while these are very real and imperative things to take care of, we have to have immigration reform. We are future doctors teachers and lawyers: People who can help prevent issues like those. These students, we have to pay for them to go through K-12, it’s the hope of the nation and the greying of America. Who’s going to take care of baby boomers between 50 and 70? We have a shortage, we just need more young passionate minds to help care for these baby boomers.
We can’t compromise with either party anymore. They are taking away our rights. What about our rights as humans, which is being abused right now? Honestly, we need more people to speak up and more people in favor of the DREAM Act. But it’s not moving because we don’t have numbers in favor of it, it’s because of support from organizations like Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Numbers USA.
Beltran: The Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June that includes a path to citizenship. What, in your opinion, is preventing Republicans in the House from moving forward with total immigration reform?
Cortes: It’s a hot potato issue; in both parties there’s opposition. Democrats are a little bit defensive and partly responsible for the problems. My issue is you can’t help it. When there’s no compromise on both sides, immigration reform gets shut down again. I think some people are really just playing with it. It’s an easy hot potato issue. I think the Democrats are just afraid the Republicans will come out as the champions of immigration reform.
Beltran: Are you still active in Students United for the Dream Act at TAMU-SA?
Cortes: We have such a hard time setting up a chapter there because of politics, so we’ve had a lot of barriers to jump over as far as having forums. But, we still have the group, even if we’re not active at TAMU-San Antonio we sometimes just use the name SUDA (Students United for the Dream Act). But, we still provide services for the community. I’ve talked to 300 people about what deferred action means. We provide real services and anyone who calls me on the phone and says “I’m sixteen years old, want to go to college and don’t know how, or I want to apply for this and that.” If they’re an immigrant, I do what I can to guide them. We all do what we can to guide them.
Beltran: What are your plans after graduation?
Cortes: I graduate this December. It can’t get here fast enough. I was supposed to join the military but I can’t right now. Even though they say they will let me in, I need my I-55H number. I don’t meet their requirements so I can’t enlist. I wanted to get my degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio and then go into the military but the current help doesn’t even cover UTSA, so I had to find something quick and enjoyable for me at A&M-SA.
Beltran: How do you want to serve in the Military?
Cortes: I want to be in Linguistics and I want to be an officer in the Marine Corps specifically. But I can’t even enlist, let alone clear restrictions to be an officer because I need to have a green card for that. Immigration reform needs to pass or I need a green card. At least now I have a social security number and can get a real job that has to do a little bit with what I want to do. The good news is, I have a lot of options. The bad news is, I have a lot of options and I don’t know what the hell I’ll do.
For us undocumented people there is no plan. We’re hanging on a tree begging for mercy. A lot of us are 30 and aging out. The ones who started the real fight are 32; they’ve aged out already. Now they’re just illegal. If they were under 30 when DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrival) was passed, they have it. But it’s not like yippee free green cards for everyone. They’re still at risk of getting deported everyday.
Editors Note: This interview was conducted via two phone calls by Editor-in-Chief Jacob Beltran. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.