There are roughly 18,000 students in Washington, and 800,000 nationwide, that are protected by DACA. Each living individual lives with a unique story; a story filled with fear, hope, and a personal drive to make the most out of their lives in America. Catalina (Cat) Corvalan, 20, a sophomore at Whitworth University, is just one of the students who has decided to stand up and advocate on behalf of these Dreamers.
From Chile to America
Cat was born in Chile and attended school there until 3rd grade. She, her brother, and her parents moved to America when she was 10 years old. In the years directly before moving to America, her family was hit with turmoil. Cat’s father lost his job and her grandfather, who contributed heavily to the family finances, passed away, leaving behind extensive medical bills.
In order to pay the bills, Cat’s father spent night and day working a low-income job and her mother also looked for as much work as possible. Cat’s parents wanted to come to America and applied for a family visa in 2003, hoping to give their children a better future. Years went by, the visa process had not hastened, and Catalina’s family began to desperately struggle.
During this time, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Chile’s unemployment rate was rising to nearly 12%, a percentage that America has never hit. With the visa process showing no progress, Cat’s parents chose to immigrate to America in order to find work and hopefully expedite the visa paperwork while in the country. If her family stayed in Chile, they would have been evicted from their home and forced to live on the streets; Cat and her brother would have had little hope for a good education and future.
Cat’s grandmother and aunt, who are American citizens living in the Seattle area, were here to meet them and welcome them into the country. “I think I would have made the same decision as my parents,” Cat said. “They sacrificed a lot to come to America. It wasn’t an easy decision.”
At first, when Cat’s family moved to America, she thought it was a simple vacation to visit her grandmother and aunt. It wasn’t until a few years later that Cat discovered the truth about her undocumented status. “I learned about my undocumented status in 8th grade when I started looking at colleges in order to pursue a medical degree. I never imagined that a person could become illegal.”
The Hope of DACA
The same year Cat discovered she was undocumented was the year President Obama enacted DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program). Cat wasted no time. After receiving DACA approval while in high school, she took advantage of as many my opportunities she could. During her junior and senior year in high school, she worked as an intern at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research center.
“I wanted to go into the medical field in order to change things I didn’t like. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, there was little to no medical help available to us, especially for my parents,” Cat explained. “When we had to go to the hospital, I hated seeing my parents stress about all the hoops they had to jump through, due to a lack of insurance, and their looming fear of medical debt. I want to give more opportunities for health care to the undocumented community.”
Entering into college, Cat received the prestigious Act Six Leadership Scholarship, which provides her with a full-ride at Whitworth University to pursue a career in the medical field. “Whitworth has been an encouraging and safe place for me to speak up and join groups that are advocating for undocumented students.”
“I’m lucky to live in Washington where there are so many resources available for young students in my position–The Washington Dream Act and the Real Hope Act provide undocumented students with financial aid for higher education. So many other students in other states do not have the support our state gives us.”
The Potential End Of Protected Status
On September 5th of last year, the Trump administration announced it was ending the DACA program. In response to this announcement, Cat, and Dreamers all around the country, took the initiative to begin advocating for citizenship to a greater extent than they had before. If the DACA program would be shut down, many Dreamers would be faced with the potential of deportation; the threat of being forced away from what they have known as home for the majority of their lives.
“If I went back to Chile, I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Cat has now lived in America longer than she had lived in Chile. “I’m learning so much about the US healthcare system and it would be a shame if I wasn’t able to apply that knowledge to a career here in the US.”
Although, Cat explains, “DACA wasn’t perfect from the beginning. Although yes, DACA was a pathway to the future for many, it was just a band-aid. When all of these immigration debates began recently, the advocacy groups started to see it as an opportunity to push for a permanent solution–we can’t live off of two-year permits for the rest of our lives. In the end, we want a clearer path to citizenship.”
In regards to the more recent failure of the government to pass the proposed immigration bills, Cat expresses, “In my own views, it was a good thing that these bills didn’t pass. A lot of these bills didn’t cover our community as well as they should have in the first place. We want to pass something that will benefit the entire community.”
Cat, while being a full-time college student, also leads the Spokane Dream Project and has gotten the opportunity to speak in many public forums, including the recent Women’s March in January, advocating for a clearer path to citizenship.
One Person At A Time
“When I recognized that I had the power to change people’s minds about undocumented students by telling my story, it overpowered my fear of advocacy. There were several years where advocacy was not an option for me. My parents have always cautioned against it. Even now, my parents are weary, but I think advocacy is very much needed now more than ever.”
Cat admits, “I’d rather speak with groups who have questions, or are even against undocumented students, than just speak in an echo chamber. I prefer more personal conversations over a podium. That’s where I think people can reflect and evaluate their positions. Speeches are great for advocacy and awareness, but the real change is done face-to-face.”
When asked about the support that she has seen from the Christian community in Spokane, Cat expressed, “It’s disheartening to hear that Evangelicals are some of the most adamantly opposed to immigration and social issues. But in Spokane, I’ve found great support groups from churches where the pastors are looking at the Bible and realizing the call to support those in need, then actually choosing to stand alongside us in advocacy. I’ve had the privilege of finding myself in supportive groups surrounded by people of faith who have helped me heal and reconcile Christian values with advocacy.”
“What’s preached at the church, shouldn’t stay inside the church; it should go out into the community. It’s tough to see people who listen and understand our struggles, but choose to stand on the sidelines.”
World Relief stands with Catalina and the other Dreamers around the country because as Christians we are called to stand with those who are hurting. We support their path to citizenship because we believe Dreamers add tremendous value to our country. If you would like to learn more about this issue and support Catalina’s work with the Spokane Dream Project, you can sign up for updates at https://tinyurl.com/SpokaneDreamProject.
Zak Sommers, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this blog post.