We met a month ago at a panel discussion on immigration. Well dressed, intelligent and professional, Daniel Rodriguez seemed poised to take on the world.
So when this young man, just a few years older than my stepsons, asked to meet me for coffee, I didn’t hesitate to join him.
Daniel’s energy is palpable. You can’t help but feel his enthusiasm, which is a bit of a dichotomy, considering his status.
Daniel is undocumented. He came to America when he was just seven years old, and for many people, this is where his story ends because this is the point they cannot move past.
But I’m hoping people will take the time to read the rest of Daniel’s story because they may find, as I did, a commonality in the struggles life hands us and a resilience that’s distinctly American.
Daniel’s mother made the choice to bring her children to America. She knew it was against the law. But she crossed anyway. She was a victim of spousal abuse who feared for her life and her children’s and believed she would find safety in this country.
As a mother myself, it’s not hard to understand this woman’s decision to uproot her family. I would do anything and go anywhere if it meant keeping my kids safe, and I venture to say that most moms feel the same way. Still, some will judge Daniel’s mother harshly for her decision.
When Daniel started school in Arizona, he was placed in a special education classroom. This wasn’t because he had intellectual challenges. He was a bright boy. But he was a bright boy who spoke Spanish and therefore, deemed unable to handle a regular classroom. His aunt, who was fluent in English, convinced the school to keep him in a mainstream classroom, and this, Daniel believes, changed the course of his future.
This part of his story resonated with me in a very personal way. My husband Nick faced a similar situation when he was a child. Dyslexic and ADHD, Nick was labeled dumb and the school in the rural North Dakota town where he grew up in didn’t know how to help him. Administrators told his parents he needed to attend a school for mentally handicapped students. His parents refused.
Daniel, like Nick, adjusted to a regular classroom but never felt compelled to go beyond the low expectations that had been set for him.
Daniel’s story changes, however, in much the same way it changed for my husband after meeting someone who believed in him. A school guidance counselor convinced Daniel he was worthy of a college degree and worthy of obtaining the career he had dreamed of pursuing.
And so Daniel traveled down a new path, one that would culminate in his graduation from ASU with degrees in Political Science and English Literature. Yes, ENGLISH literature.
His degree didn’t come without challenges. Because of his undocumented status and the political climate in Arizona, Daniel lost his academic scholarships halfway through his undergraduate program even though he had maintained a 3.8 GPA. Through hard work and with the help of his family, he managed to get through the rest of college, but he had another dream: to become an attorney.
He was accepted into law school and though he had no access to any type of financial aid, including loans, he made it through his first year. He wanted to continue, but he was broke. The DREAM Act was making its way through Congress, and Daniel decided he would devote the next year of his life to ensuring its passage. Once passed, Daniel would be able to claim something he had always felt in his heart but could not prove with documents.
Daniel co-founded the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition and lobbied Congress and countless politicians and citizen groups on its behalf. He encouraged others to come out of the shadows to put a face and a story to legislation that needed action.
Unfortunately, the DREAM Act did not pass and two years later, has still not passed. But Daniel still dreams and is determined to find a way to move forward, with or without Congress’ help.
As someone who has tried and failed to get Congress to act on immigration reform, I can appreciate Daniel’s tenacity. He still advocates on behalf of DREAMers and even took on the position of President of Somos America/We Are America, a human rights coalition.
He spends his days going door to door to register and educate disenfranchised voters, but he has to return to law school this year or risk losing the first year he finished. In Arizona, one must complete law school within six years time or start again from scratch. Daniel cannot afford to start over.
He intends to go back to law school in the fall, but as of now, is still unsure how he will pay for it. Law school isn’t cheap, and without access to loans, Daniel is struggling. He needs help. He needs our help.
Daniel has spent his days advocating for the rights of others, and now he needs others to advocate for him. Can you help Daniel attain his dream? Click here for a link to Daniel’s website and a place where you can donate to his cause. He isn’t looking for a single angel but rather a host of angels who will join together as a community of support.
For me, it’s easy to make the choice to support Daniel because I know he will return the favor by giving back to the community in which he lives. He already has. I hope others will take this opportunity to be part of a movement to support Daniel and his dream. The world will thank you.