Ed. Note: We updated our July 2016 profile of Jose Salazar, a former CSULB student body president and Dreamer who just returned from an emotional trip back home to Mexico.
LONG BEACH, Calif. – In 2015 Cal State Long Beach student body president and undocumented immigrant Jose Salazar made headlines when it emerged he would not be paid for the position because of his immigration status.
“The first four months it was hell,” said Salazar, a 27-year-old who is double majoring in aerospace engineering and physics. “Nobody really cared about [my] situation.”
Because he did not have a social security number, the school declined to pay Salazar the $1200 monthly stipend usually given to Associated Student presidents. So to make ends meet, he took a job in construction while juggling a full-time load of classes and serving as student body president.
“I saw him, he was going through a lot,” said Sandra Lopez, secretary for AB 540 and undocumented students at CSULB. California’s AB 540 gives undocumented students access to in-state tuition and financial aid. “The most difficult part … was the backlash that was created when he was out in the news,” noted Lopez, adding that Salazar became the target of racist comments.
Then in May he received DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Obama’s program granting undocumented immigrants work authorization and temporary relief from deportation. “[DACA] changed my whole perspective,” Salazar said. “It’s been something that has been very helpful.”
More than 740,000 undocumented immigrants have been granted DACA since its launch in 2012, according to the most recent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.
As a freshman at CSULB, a campus of over 35,000 students, Salazar quickly became active in student government and was the first undocumented student to be elected president.
Although he lost his re-election bid for study body president, there are still more doors opening for him.
Salazar recently came back from a visit to Mexico in August, thanks to a DACA perk known as advance parole. DACA recipients can apply for advance parole to travel out of the country for humanitarian, work, or educational purposes. Permission to re-enter the country is not guaranteed.
The California-Mexico Studies Center, tied to CSULB’s Chicano and Latino Studies Department, organized the one-month study abroad trip for Salazar and 34 other DACA recipients.
Salazar had not been back to Mexico since he first came to the United States at the age of eight with his family.
“I thought it was a dream,” said Salazar. “My mind was all over the place.” He was looking forward to seeing his aunt, grandma, and other relatives on the other side of the border.
It was with heavy emotion that he left his mother and father behind in the United States for the journey. Both parents are facing health problems. His mother has cancer. His father is undergoing dialysis.
For part of the the program, students learned about Mexican history and visited landmarks left behind by their ancestors. Salazar then had the privilege to fly to his hometown in Sonora.
There, he rebuilt connections with many of his relatives he had left behind as a child, sharing intimate moments with his cousins and grandmother, and visiting the grave of his grandfather, who passed away while Salazar was in the United States.
“I miss you grandpa,” Salazar posted on his Facebook with a picture of him at the burial site. “Seeing your grave today fulfills my emotions and voids, and it gives me the strength needed to carry on with my life goals, which I promise you I will accomplish! I brought you one of your favorite tequilas for yourself, 3 cigarettes and one Jimador to take a drink with you.”
In Sonora, Salazar also saw a different reality — poverty seemed to be everywhere. Children were working as restaurant servers.
“I felt numb because I was feeling so many emotions at once,” said Salazar. He says the experience inspired him to give back to the land he is from.
“Other Dreamers feel ‘off.’ They feel confused [coming back],” said Salazar. “I had to process quick because life keeps on going for me.”
That’s because with DACA, Salazar is now also looking to apply for higher paying jobs that will allow him to better support his ill parents.
“My family knows I have a work permit and they’re excited about it,” said Salazar, whose career goals include work in the aerospace sector. “It’s a relief off my shoulders knowing that I have some way of helping myself.”
Salazar is completing one more semester at CSULB. Besides school, he plans on spending quality time with his family and continuing to support undocumented students. He hopes that one day others will get to have the same experience he did.
This profile was produced in collaboration with Ready California (Ready-California.org), a collaborative campaign supporting California organizations to ensure that eligible undocumented Californians can access immigration relief. For more information about how to apply for DACA, go to: www.ilrc.org/daca.