Cristian Aguilar wrote four words when asked to describe who he is: immigrant, past, present and future.
He’s eager to escape his past and the man who tried to attack him multiple times and who forced him to flee his native Honduras two years ago. He’s thrown himself into his school work in the present, working to learn English at Liberty High School as a senior and acing his other courses.
But, more than anything, he’s focused on his future dreams of attending college.
“I want to change everything in my life,” Aguilar said. “I want to start a career to help me and to help others be successful.”
On Saturday, he and nearly 300 immigrant Houston ISD students and parents attended the district’s fourth annual DREAM Summit to learn how to market themselves to colleges and navigate the often-complicated path to higher education.
For young immigrants, especially those who lack citizenship, there’s more to worry about than choosing the right words for admissions essays.
Those who moved here from countries like El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua with Temporary Protected Statuses will likely lose those protections next year because of a change in policy spurred by President Donald Trump. Vietnamese refugees who moved here after the war could face deportation if rumored changes to their statuses take effect. Trump’s rhetoric categorizing migrants and refugees as criminals preceded an increase racist and hateful actions in schools, according to an investigation by Education Week.
But instead of dwelling on uncertainty and fear, speakers at the summit delivered hope and guidance to students from around the world.
Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan told those gathered that educators at Texas’ largest school district do not care if students lack proper immigration documentation, only that they receive a high-quality education.
“You represent our America, you represent my America. It is important that we say that time and time again,” Lathan said. “We are all united around one cause, and that’s for you to receive a quality education — for you to go on and to live the dreams your parents gave up so much for.”
To help students work toward some of those goals, high schoolers were given a crash course in all things college, from learning how to apply for financial aide without a social security number, to on-campus organizations that cater to immigrant students.
It felt like a taste of what was to come for 18-year-olds Virginia Iradukumda and Helena Moshi, who both immigrated to the United States from Tanzania when they were 6. Their parents came so their children could seek a better education and better lives, they said, and the two were eager to hear about their options.
“In America, I feel like college is my thing,” Iradukumda said. “I can’t imagine just stopping after high school, or not doing something I love for the rest of my life.”
Aguilar felt the same — eager to pursue a future as an attorney. He said his mother, whom he lives with in Houston, has inspired him to seek higher education.
“My mom is the most important support in my life. That’s why I wanted to come here, to stay with her,” Aguilar said. “She’s a big reason why I want to go to college.”