The Accidental Immigration Advocate

Hanging in the balance-01

Photo: United States Student Association
Giancarlo Tello. Photo: United States Student Association

Meet Giancarlo Tello, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient who has worked tirelessly to not only create opportunities for himself, but also for other aspiring Americans. When his DACA application was approved, he thought of his parents and their hard work and contributions and why they should be able to stay, live, and work in the U.S.

Giancarlo was born in Peru to caring parents who wanted a better life. At the age of six, he arrived with his family in the United States in search of that better life. Giancarlo quickly learned English and received good grades. By high school, he was taking honors classes and played on the tennis, soccer, and ping pong teams. Like many teenagers, Giancarlo dreamed of getting his driver’s license. After being one of the few students in his drivers’ education class to pass the written test on their first try, he ran home to tell his mother and ask her to take him to the DMV to get his permit. It was at that moment that Giancarlo first learned he was undocumented. He thought that it would only affect his ability to get a license, but as he grew closer to graduation, he found that being undocumented would present even greater hurdles.

As Giancarlo started to plan for college, he asked his mother what he should put on the applications when they asked for his social security number. She told him that he couldn’t put anything down, and that he might not be able to go to college at all.

Giancarlo was dismayed by this news. He had worked hard in school and had dreams for his future. “That’s when I started paying attention to the news and media. You start hearing those words, ‘illegals.’ You start being dehumanized, and you start being scared.”

His parents and family told him that he couldn’t tell anyone about his status. “Nobody in your school, not your best friends, your counselors, your teachers. You can’t tell anyone because you can be deported. Or we could be. You could be separated from your family.”

NJDREAMActCoalition_logo_560x292Giancarlo’s hopes for the future were dimmed until he learned that he could attend community college and pay as an international student. Because he couldn’t drive, Giancarlo would get dropped off at school by his father at 6 a.m. and then picked up after his father’s two jobs at 11 p.m. Being on campus for so many hours gave him the opportunity to get involved. He heard about the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, which fought for passage of the DREAM Act. Working with them, Giancarlo had the opportunity to travel to the Capitol to lobby on the bill.

After earning his associate degree from Bergen Community College, he enrolled at Rutgers University–Camden. Giancarlo worked with other advocates to push for DACA, which had a profound effect on his life. Giancarlo received his DACA approval on Christmas Eve, 2013. While not permanent and definitely not perfect, DACA did provide him with the opportunity to work, get a driver’s license, and be protected from deportation.

Giancarlo then turned his activism toward passing a New Jersey state bill that allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. His leadership skills were apparent and he was elected campaign chair of New Jersey United Students’ Tuition Equity for DREAMers. He organized legislative visits and orchestrated a call-in day to a democratic state senator who was holding the bill up in committee. By noon, the senator called Giancarlo and asked him to call off the call-in. The bill passed through the committee the following week and eventually was passed by both houses and signed by Governor Chris Christie.

DACA_anniversaryblog_pic1Giancarlo hasn’t forgotten other students and their families who haven’t benefited from DACA and the tuition law. He recently helped to create a scholarship fund for undocumented students at his university, and he is involved in advocating for President Obama to provide administrative relief for undocumented immigrants.

He urges President Obama to take executive action. And while Giancarlo longs to fulfill his biggest dream—to become a U.S. citizen—he urges other Latinos to register and vote. “Neither party should take Latinos for granted,” he said.

Giancarlo’s undocumented status led him to become an accidental advocate. “I felt I reached a glass wall and needed to do anything to break it,” he said. Our community is grateful Giancarlo has broken down that wall. We are all better for it.

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