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The Education Trap 

In California, many undocumented immigrants are offered cheap college tuition, only to find they can’t get jobs after they graduate.

Wednesday, Jul 21 2010
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Page 5 of 5

The occasion? One of Lal's friends and fellow activists decided she couldn't wait for the bill anymore, and is leaving the country. Beleza is Chinese by blood and Brazilian by birth. She is 23, yet has the bearing of someone a decade older. She earned a bachelor's in sociology from UC Berkeley with highest honors in 2008, and since then has been filling her time by tutoring, babysitting, and interning at Educators for Fair Consideration. Beleza reported only $12,000 in income last year, compared to her husband, Giovanni, who dropped out of school at 14 when he came illegally to the United States from Mexico to help his parents clean buildings and schools. Giovanni started his own janitorial company three years ago, and says he earned more than $100,000 last year.

Beleza planned to attempt exactly what Lal had just failed at: getting a Canadian student visa for a graduate program in urban studies at the University of Toronto. There's a risk she'll face the same obstacles — she's been in the United States illegally, and has few ties to her home country. "If I were a betting man, I'd say they're not going to accept it," says David Cohen, a Toronto-based immigration attorney, when told the details of Beleza's case. She plans to tell the truth other than one key component: She does, indeed, plan to stay in Canada after she graduates and become a permanent resident.

Beleza will do one thing differently than Lal. The day after the picnic, she will return to her native Brazil, since she's supposed to apply and interview for the student visa from a county where she legally resides. Leaving the U.S. is exiling herself, the reason Lal decided to subvert the rules and apply from the United States. Immigrants who've lived more than one year illegally in the country are barred from re-entering for 10 years.

"Once I'm out, I'm out," Beleza says calmly while packing the last eight years of her life into three suitcases at her Excelsior home the night before the party. "I don't think I'm coming back."

Beleza will also lose her eligibility for the DREAM Act she worked so hard to help pass. But she says it's no longer worth living in the United States: "I like to be in charge of my own destiny. Here, I'm just waiting." The morning after the party, she boarded her plane without a tear. Giovanni plans to join her next year, or if he happens to get deported — whichever comes first.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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