Breaking Down Barriers for Immigrant Youth
As an undocumented immigrant in the United States, pursuing higher education has been a constant uphill battle for me. Not only have I faced financial struggles, but the limitations of my legal status have also hindered me from accessing many opportunities that are available to citizens and legal residents. However, I was fortunate to find out about the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) program that could have provided a pathway to citizenship for me, but unfortunately, I missed the opportunity due to the age limit in New Mexico. This is why I am urging the New Mexico Senate to pass HB15, which would change the age limit for SIJ from 18 to 21.
I was already 19 years old when I learned about the SIJ program from a member of the UNM Dream Team who was studying to be a lawyer. I was devastated to find out that I was no longer eligible to apply because the age limit in New Mexico was 18. My family and I were not even aware of the program's existence until that moment. I felt hopeless because I knew that SIJ could have been the key to accessing higher education and a pathway to citizenship. I had already missed my chance to apply and secure my future.
But my brother, Jason, who was able to apply and was approved the day before turning 18, is now a beneficiary of SIJ. It has provided him with many opportunities, including protection from deportation, and seeing how far he has gone and how he is protected from deportation gives me hope for other young immigrants like myself. This is why I strongly support HB15, which would change the age limit to 21 and give many youth the opportunity for a better future.
As a young immigrant woman, I understand the struggles of living with the constant fear of being deported or separated from my family. The stress of being turned down by scholarships and job opportunities because of my legal status is a burden that many young immigrants face daily. We deserve a chance to succeed and thrive in New Mexico. We need to be given the same opportunities as any other citizen or legal resident in this state.
This is why I am urging the New Mexico Senate to pass HB15. Changing the age limit from 18 to 21 will not only provide a pathway to citizenship for many young immigrants, but it will also protect them from being deported or separated from their families. Other states have already changed their age limit, and it is time for New Mexico to follow suit.
HB15 is now in its last steps to becoming a law, and it is crucial that we all come together to ensure that it passes. I urge everyone who supports the immigrant youth community to contact their Senator and ask them to support HB15 in this last week of the 56th legislative session.
It is time for us to take action and create a better future so every young person in this state, regardless of their immigration status, has access to education, job opportunities, and a pathway to citizenship.
Michelle Murguia is the Field Manager for the NM Dream Team.