Education is a Human Right, therefore College Access is a Human Right!

Please read Juntos’ response below to this Op-Ed article in The Philadelphia Inquirer last week:

My name is Miguel Andrade and I am the Youth Organizer from Juntos in South Philadelphia and I’m also representing a network of community-led organizations and allies that are in Support of the PA Dream Act.

I am currently 21 years old and came to the United States when I was five. For the past 15 of my 16 years of growing up here I was undocumented. I know firsthand what it means to find out that you are “undocumented” and the effect that that has on a young person’s development. Like many youth I found out I was different than the rest of my classmates when I was in High School. I had been selected to be part of program that would have allowed me to study abroad for the summer. I was super excited and couldn’t wait to tell my parents. Once I did though, I was told by my mother that I couldn’t do it. See they were asking for a 9 digit number in the application. The lack of me having a social security number denied me the opportunity to take part of a once in a lifetime experience.

This had a tremendous impact on my freshman year experience. After that moment I told myself, “What’s the point? Why am I going to work so hard if I can’t even do anything with that diploma?” You see it wasn’t just that I couldn’t go study abroad for that summer; I also wouldn’t have been able to get a license when the time came along with my friends. I couldn’t get a state issued ID either. And if I had graduated, all I would have gotten was a pretty diploma that to me said I had wasted 4 years of my life in high school and I wouldn’t even be able to go even get a job let alone go to college.

That’s how I was forced to become another statistic. Another number in the growing list of young people dropping out of school. In the city of Philadelphia alone that percentage of youth that drop out of school is close to 50% and many of these youth have dropped out for the same reasons that I have stated above. We cannot allow the future of our state to fall prey to the school to prison/deportation pipeline. We need to create avenues that engage our immigrant youth population as well as all youth in the state of PA to stay in the education system and have clear ways of allowing us to attend college. I’m lucky in the fact that I have my residency but that was almost impossible for me and my mother to attain, not everyone has that privilege due to the way that immigration laws are written in this country.

By allowing the passing of legislation such as the PA Dream Act it will open up the opportunity to many undocumented youth to just apply for in state tuition. By having this bill passed it will send the message to the thousands of youth who are on the cusp of dropping out or who have just dropped out due to being undocumented that they have a chance to continue their education and to even re-engage in their education. An equal opportunity to apply and to pay the same tuition cost that anybody else that is a resident Pennsylvania would pay shouldn’t be denied to anybody regardless of immigration status.

Now I always believe that I can’t present my side of a debate with just emotion alone so here are some facts and some truths I want to debunk.

The PA Dream Act will pay for college tuitions for illegal immigrants:

First let’s stop using the word Illegal, our communities are not illegal. We strongly believe that no human being is illegal therefore from here on out I encourage all who read this to use Undocumented, which is an actual representation of the immigration status of our communities. Second, the PA Dream Act, along with any Dream Act that has or may be passed at the state level are in no way shape or form about paying for any students’ tuition costs. The truth about these bills is that they are solely about having the in state tuition fees available for students who qualify for them. The parameters in which this is determined are by the amount of time somebody has been living in and contributing into the state, in this case Pennsylvania. Making somebody who calls PA their home and has been living and contributing back to the state have to pay Out of State goes against the values of equality that this country was founded upon, the phrase “all men are created equal” comes to mind.

What about the youth who already are here? Why do THEY get to have privileges that we don’t?

Nobody is talking about getting more than what others have. The basis of the State Dream Act versions have nothing to do with putting immigrants in front of the line, but to actually be given to opportunity to get in line. Let’s be realistic, a College Education is expensive whether you are documented or not. It is against the rights we all have as human beings to be denied an education, and by denying people the ability to pay the lower cost just like anybody else that lives in the commonwealth you are denying their human right to an education

This is going to be a burden on the state!

Actually this is going to bring increased revenue to our already troubled state. First by widening the pool of people who can pay in state tuition you are going to have more people paying money into state run institutions, therefore more money going back into the state. Second, it has been proven time and time again that college graduates have a higher income. A more skilled and educated work force is a plus for the state, more people working means more people paying into taxes and strengthening the state’s economy. It’s a win-win situation.

So I urge anybody that wants to be a part of this debate to have the full picture. Let’s not go around on newspapers or radio programs saying half-truths. Fact is that by allowing all students who live and contribute already in the state of Pennsylvania will benefit the commonwealth in the long run. What we are asking for is for equal treatment. Equality the basis on which this country, our country was founded on.


Juntos Parents Urge You to Stand Up for Our Schools

On Wednesday February 27 parents and leaders from Juntos organized a protest to draw attention to the massive school closings using the unfair closing of Abigail Vare located in the neighborhood of Penn’s Port in South Philadelphia as an example of the district’s arbitrary decisions on the issue.

PCAPS March 7 2013 Flyer

A crowd of about 100 people made up of Juntos’ leaders, Vare parents, school staff, students and community members gathered outside Vare Elementary School located in Moyamesing Street, between Tasker and Morris. The crowd protested against the merging of Vare with Washington and the closing of 29 public schools in the city. Vare is schedule to move their program to the George Washington Elementary School building the next school year.

“I’m here because I feel very upset about the district wanting to close our school and the other 28 public schools in the city because the district’s arguments are false. Because they say that Vare is an old building. It is one of the better schools in the area that just needs some repair work on the roof and in the boiler” said Patricia Rodriguez, leader of Juntos.

Rodriguez’s son, age 7, is in his last year of kindergarten and if  Vare closes he would have to register at George Washington elementary schools which is located 12 blocks north and which would have to go walking alone risking his safety.

“The School District says they chose to close Vare because its building is old and in poor condition but instead the district’s website shows that the Vare building is one that is in the best condition in this area. In fact fixing Vare would cost $ 8,605,440 while schools in this area like Southwark will need $18,793,723 and
$12,971,107 for Sharswood ” said Martina Camacho, mother of a student enrolled in Vare.

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In addition, Abigail Vare Elementary School has had constant enrolment, has made its AYP for the past years and has the best math scores in the neighborhood.

“We’re not here to say that Vare should remain open and other school should close. What we are say is that we do not understand why the district wants to merge Abigail Vare with Washington  because they want to combine a good school with a school that needs support. By combining these two, you are taking the risk that the Vare program is going to decline and Wahington needs support instead of more kids and more problems”, said Adriana Arvizo, community organizer at Juntos.

In the end, Juntos’ leaders questioned the closing of Vare because it doesn’t meet the district criteria for closings whether there will be any interest in a piece of land in a gentrifying neighborhood.

Finally, Juntos’ leaders invited attendees to a mobilization to the School District building on March 7 at 3:30pm during the School Reform Commission final vote on the school closings.