Hillsborough student chooses finals over immigration
Juan Cordova-Salgado has been waiting years for a hearing date in his native Mexico so he can try to become a legal resident of the United States.
The last four years, he's been toiling away at his studies in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program at Strawberry Crest High School, aiming to be a part of the first IB graduating class there. He's been a student in local schools for the last decade.
So Cordova-Salgado was excited last month when he got a letter in the mail – at long last – telling him his hearing at the U.S. consulate would be May 9.
Then that excitement turned into panic. And a dilemma.
It turns out that May 9 – this Thursday – is the day he's supposed to be taking his math and history final exams for the IB program.
He can't be in Mexico and in a classroom at the same time. And he can't graduate without sitting for those exams.
“Once I had time to absorb the information,” Cordova-Salgado said, “I knew I would have to make a choice.”
“I wouldn't want to be in his shoes,” said Tiffany Ewell, an assistant principal at the school located in Dover in eastern Hillsborough County. “He had a decision to make.”
He talked to family members. He discussed it with teachers and others at his school. He's consulted with attorneys.
“This was such a hard decision,” said Jamie Ferrario, who teaches psychology in the IB department. “I don't think there is a right or wrong decision for Juan to make in this.”
In the end, Cordova-Salgado opted to forgo the hearing for now – despite the fact that getting another date anytime soon is not a given. Sometimes, it can take months or years to secure a rescheduling.
“It was best for me to stay and finish my high school diploma,” the 18-year-old senior said. “It's something I have been working hard for the last four years.”
“It breaks my heart he is passing up this hearing,” said Ewell. “But I am glad he is going to get to graduate with his class. It's bittersweet.”
He's been in the U.S. without legal status for more than 10 years now. His mother has become a legal resident, he said, while his father is back in Mexico.
Those who know him at school describe him as quiet and compassionate. Words such as sweet, generous and kind-hearted also are mentioned.
“He didn't ask to come into this country,” said Ferrario. “He didn't ask for his parents to bring him here. This whole process has just been exhausting for him.”
The teenager said he thinks he might be covered by President Barack Obama's executive order last year that defers action on deporting youths who arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and have been in the country for more than five years.
But he said he still is sticking with his original application to gain permanent status. And he will wait for another hearing.
That's something Roger Villanueva, an employee of the school district who works with migrant families, does not recommend.
“Sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes years,” Villanueva said of the new hearing date. “There is no guarantee.
“If it was up to me, I would just go and get my interview and worry about graduating later,” he added. “There will be another opportunity for that. But the immigration issue is going to be for a lifetime.”
Yahima Hernandez, a local immigration attorney, said she is worried about Cordova-Salgado's plans to go to Mexico this summer and visit his father. She is concerned he might not get back into the United States and could be barred for several years.
And, she said, the fact he is now 18 could complicate immigration issues.
For Cordova-Salgado, who has been accepted at Marymount University in Virginia and wants to become an attorney one day, the decision came down to sharing a special moment with the 105 graduates of the IB program.
“It will be amazing,” he said. “We have gone through this rigorous program together and helped one another and picked one another up when someone wanted to give up.
“It's a group I will never forget,” he added. “It's like another family, but at school.”