Ever since 19-year-old José Salcedo can remember, he’s had nightmares about U.S. immigration agents -and for good reason. Salcedo, born in Colombia, has been living illegally in America since the age of nine.
But what makes Salcedo different, is that he announced his illegal status in a very public way -at a student rally at Miami-Dade College this week.
Standing as the keynote speaker at the school’s ‘InterAmerican Campus’ in Little Havana, the International Relations major shocked students and teachers by ‘outing’ himself.
What makes this more compelling is that the Colombian-born Salcedo is president of the Student Government Association on that campus, and one of only 550 exceptional students that make up the school’s Honors College.
I spoke with José by phone. I’d left a message and he called me back. He said he was in a rush and had a host of other interviews to do.
I asked him why he decided to come out of the shadows. He said, “There are lots of undocumented students in the school and no one knows it. They’re your girlfriend and boyfriend.”
Salcedo came boldly out into the public arena, one day after President Obama promised he would push for a “Dream Act” vote, even in the current lame-duck congress.
This proposed legislation would give green cards to children who were brought into America illegally by their undocumented parents.
In this case, Salcedo says his mother brought him to the United States to escape the brutality of paramilitary forces in her home country. As he stood at the podium, he realized he couldn’t turn back. He’d been living a lie for too long.
“I had to go out and tell the truth. I had spoken at many of these rallies and I would say, “My best friend, or a friend of mine.’ I would say that as an alias, but I was talking about me. I was letting others know something that was happening to me, but I was too ashamed to say it was me. Yesterday, I thought this was our last stand.”
Salcedo said he has never received any government money for anything, ‘How can I, I’m a shadow, I’m not even here.’ He said he applied for and received a Florida identification card about five years ago. He didn’t know if it had expired, but he still had it.
I asked if he was required to show some paperwork, some documentation when he applied to take his current college courses. Anything that might prove who he was, or conversely, who he wasn’t? He said no, he just signed up and paid.
Immigration experts say each year, as many as 65,000 illegal’s graduate from U.S. high schools, less than 10% go onto college. For ten years, José Salcedo had outsmarted the system, staying one step ahead of immigration authroities --‘la Migra.’
I asked if he was worried that immigration officers might now come after him?
“If they come after me, it’s going to show their focus. If they come after me, they’ll be coming after students. It’s going to show what their goals are,” he said.
This week, Salcedo made a very bold statement by telling the system who he really was and where he really lived. He says he’s not challenging the system he’s merely tired of lying.
What does his mother think of his new ‘true’ status? José Salcedo said he’s been so busy breaking the news to everyone else, he hasn’t had time to tell his own mother.