Maria’s Story

Immigration Law and Justice New York

Story written by Karime Sanchez

Maria was only 9 years old when she traveled from her home of El Salvador to meet her mother Rosa, who had left for New York when Maria was only 11 months old. Maria traveled for a harrowing three weeks by way of buses, cars, and a final plane that would lead her to her current home in Long Island. Similarly, Rosa, who had Maria when she was a teenager, was 16 years old when she made the journey to the United States all those years ago.

Though reunited, Maria’s mixed-status family faces new challenges as they navigate a world as migrants in the States. Maria felt as though she had been thrown into school when she started third grade upon arrival to the States. She recounts that her experience was difficult as she did not know English. Undaunted, Maria states “I never put myself in a mental position where I thought that I couldn’t go to college. It has been my life-long goal to go to college.” Now 19, Maria is in her first year at Nassau Community College.

Her undocumented status places barriers that make college that much harder for her. Given her lack of residency, Nassau intended to charge her family the costs for out-of-state tuition despite their history of living on Long Island. With the added cost, Maria was unsure if she could continue attending school.
With help from New York Justice for Our Neighbors’ Senior Staff Attorney Samantha Blecher, Maria applied for a work permit. She felt anxious, given her own mother Rosa’s repeated attempts to obtain residency. To Maria’s surprise, she received the work permit soon after applying. The work permit allowed her to prove her residence to the college: She was considered an in-state student and her tuition cost was lowered.

A business management student, Maria’s future goal is to be a business owner to help impoverished communities. She is inspired by her mother who supports her college career and has been a constant source of help. Maria recounts the contrasts in their lives. While Rosa lived in extreme poverty, Maria credits Rosa’s dedication to building a better life for her children, “Thanks to her, I never knew what being hungry is”. Rosa led Maria by example as she routinely donated clothes to those less fortunate, something that Maria has never forgotten.

Now, Maria is in the process of waiting for her residency. In the meantime, she continues to face obstacles. Neither she nor her mother has residency. As an undocumented person, it is difficult to support a family because of the lack of job options. Before having a work permit, Maria would not be able to find legal means of working.

Despite these setbacks, Maria shines at school. She states that her classes are going well and that she has helpful professors with whom she is forming strong relationships. Maria is a leader in her classrooms and is never hesitant to lend a helping hand to her peers: “If I’m on board, I want everyone else to be on board too.”


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