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Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1639

This week on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we look at immigration through the perspective of a one-time illegal immigrant.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1639

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1639

For more information visit these links:

Aspiring Americans

University of Michigan - Akash Patel

CareerTech

Francis Tuttle Technology Center

Immigration Impact

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Show Details

Show 1639: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: September 25, 2016

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” We are a country of immigrants, but a country uneasy with those who have crossed our borders illegally. Today, our focus is on the undocumented worker, but from a perspective you seldom hear from. We will introduce you to a young man who spent much of his life with a secret.

Akash Patel: I was undocumented. I didn’t have a valid social yet.

Rob: And we will learn how education, tenacity and plain old good fortune helped Akash Patel become a U.S. citizen.

Roberta Sams: You don’t have to have a Social to get an education here.

Rob: And we end our day with a look at why current immigration law may hurt a growing sector of our economy. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Female Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by CareerTech – a job for every Oklahoman and a workforce for every company, with additional support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. Becoming a U.S. citizen can be an arduous journey that is not only time consuming, but frustrating because of all the red tape. But living inside these United States illegally is even more difficult, and no one knows that better than the gentleman who is our focus today. Akash Patel became a U.S. citizen in 2015, but for the vast majority of his life he was undocumented. And it is through his experiences that we take a closer look at immigration.

Akash Patel: Being undocumented is very, very challenging, very hopeless sometimes because as you’re navigating the immigration system, you’re also going through the public school system, you’re also going through the health care system. And so you’re navigating all these different realms of social life as an immigrant, and it paints all of your experiences that can make you very fearful. You hope that no one asks you about your papers or your status. It makes you hopeless about future for college. You can’t get financial aid. You can’t get a Social and work to save up for money. You can’t get a driver’s license. Being undocumented really paints your entire young adulthood until you can figure out how you can adjust your status and utilize your potential as a student and as an adult.

Rob: Born in the U.K. and of Indian descent, Patel grew up as an ambitious student with a secret.

Patel: When we came I was a year and a half old, and we came on visitor visas. And we applied for our green cards, but we were told, “Oh, it will take a few years. It won’t take very long.” But in that time of course, your original visas expire. And what started out as a few years became 16 years. It took that long to get a green card. And then five years after that you’re allowed to become a citizen, so it took me a total of 22 years to become a citizen. I’m 24 years old now, so it’s taken my whole life to get here. It’s bittersweet though because even though my parents and I became citizens, my sister still isn’t because of the immigration issue I mentioned before called “aging out.” She was kicked off the application because of her age. So now we’re trying to figure out a way for her to get her green card and her citizenship. So now she’s going to graduate in two years with her Ph.D. in microbiology, but no legal pathway to citizenship.

Rob: And this prompted Patel to found Aspiring Americans, a nonprofit group that helps undocumented students go on to higher education.

Patel: People aren’t aware of what it means to be immigrant anymore. It is see what they see in the news and think that’s what it’s like. They don’t really get to know the neighbors, their coworkers, their friends, their relatives who have lived lives as immigrants and understand what it’s like. It’s not what you see in the news. It’s not just about quotas. It’s not just about people south of the border. Immigration is a global experience that affects everybody -- the most profound of human endeavors. And what we need to do is just empower each other -- not, not subjugate each other.

Rob: Now, when we return, Akash tells his story to those who he is the most grateful for.

Female Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon” with Rob McClendon – weekly insight into your changing world.

Rob McClendon: Each year CareerTech educators from across the state come together to kick off a new school year. And at this year’s summer conference, Akash Patel was a keynote speaker – telling the thousands in attendance how two of their colleagues changed his life.

Akash Patel: The reason I’m here today, I have the privilege and honor of being here today, is because of my time at Francis Tuttle. Francis Tuttle Technology Center is the place that first gave me the skills to be a community advocate. When I think about my high school years, I think about it in two halves: before I enrolled at Francis Tuttle and after. That is how transformative their instructors and programs have become for me. I enrolled in interactive media and graphic design program during my junior high school which was taught by Roberta Sams.

Roberta Sams: He is truly a charismatic young man. He always has been. And we were talking about BPA, Business Professional of America, and I always encourage all of my students to compete. And then I said, OK, when you guys win, Francis Tuttle’s going to pay for your way to go to nationals. They’ll pay for your airfare and everything. And everybody was all excited, and I looked at Akash, and it was like his face just dropped and all the color ran out. And he said, “I couldn’t go compete at nationals. I can’t do that.” And I said, why, it’ll be fun, we’ll prepare, I wouldn’t leave you hanging -- really. And he said, “I’m an illegal. I’m not documented.”

Patel: But I knew that not having a Social Security number would become a problem, eventually. So I told Roberta that I was undocumented, that I didn’t have a valid Social yet because my green card was being processed, that I felt out of place, like a foreigner, unsure whether I could even be useful or included as a student at Francis Tuttle. But she looked at me and she told me with that grin I’ll never forget, “Oh, that doesn’t matter, you don’t need a Social to learn here.” That changed everything. I can’t adequately express how profound it is when after years of dejection, fear and hopelessness, someone uplifts you so effortlessly. Finally a place I not only felt safe, but a place where I knew I could thrive -- Francis Tuttle. Roberta changed everything by showing me what was possible. She taught me how to become the best version of myself and not take no for an answer -- to be aggressive in seeking opportunities for self-improvement. Equally important I relied heavily on the technical skills she taught me when I later designed the logo, website and printed materials for Aspiring Americans. Francis Tuttle provides unique educational opportunities by allowing students to apply skills on real projects and campaigns, not just in textbooks. It also prepares us as professionals able to cultivate a working relationship with other colleagues and members of the community. High school helps prepare you for college, but CareerTech helps prepare you for life.

Roberta Sams: When you’re a teacher, it’s not just about teaching the subject matter. You’re molding that individual and what a privilege, what an honor to get to see him become the young man he’s become. Because he will make a difference; he’s going to change lives. He is a change-maker.

Patel: The following year I enrolled in the business marketing program with Candice Curry. Under Candice’s guidance, my small group and I placed sixth out of 120 teams around the world at the International Career Development Conference for our marketing campaign.

Candice Curry: Akash was a little shy, but yet very smart. And he knew that there were things out there bigger than him. And he was willing and courageous enough to have those conversations.

Patel: Candice taught me about the importance of communicating effectively with different audiences, working with different stakeholders. Good ideas and passion, she taught me, are wasted without strong delivery and investment from the community. This has been a particularly valuable skill for me as I launched Aspiring Americans in Oklahoma -- a state with, as I’m sure you know, widely varying attitudes on immigration, but with equally supportive and passionate people working underground every day. These types of opportunities were simply unparalleled. Francis Tuttle, and CareerTech more broadly, is an incubator of intellectual and civil growth. It is where I learned how to combine my passion with tangible skills. It is where I learned the value of collaboration. It is where I learned to be a professional, ready to enter a complex and technologically connected economy. It is where I learned to develop lifelong relationships with my peers and mentors. Francis Tuttle is where I learned to be a more complete citizen, before I actually became a citizen. But I want to emphasize this, there are so many others like me -- when I first came out as undocumented the very first thing someone said to me was, “But you’re not Mexican.” Indeed I’m not.

Candice Curry: At the time that he was in my class he was undocumented, but there was also three other students undocumented in that class. And the deep, rich conversations that he would have with them, the passion he had around getting education, moving forward, not quitting, taking the education we’re learning and giving back, he always was willing to give back. That’s what makes Akash different. He can take a small idea and ignite it, and make it powerful. And that’s what he did from the classroom -- looking around and seeing other students that weren’t going to be able to go to college because they didn’t have the Social Security, didn’t have parents at home pushing that. And he said, “There’s more, there’s more we can do.” And he took a very small idea at 17, 18 years old and has now grown it and really, really empowered other people to get education, to move forward, to do better for themselves.

Patel: Immigration is a global experience, right? It doesn’t just affect one group of people or our neighbors to the south. It affects all of us from every corner of the globe. These bright and dedicated students, like my sister Necia, are the key to closing gaps in our economy, especially with respect to STEM and health careers. Equally important if not more so, immigrants represent the most profound of all human endeavors -- the search of a better life for our children. And when our community and our country receive and empower these aspiring Americans to contribute their gifts and passions and become the best version of ourselves -- Isaac Newton once said, “If I am able to see a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Francis Tuttle has been such an important giant for me. And I urge you all to continue being giants for your students. Education is the ultimate equalizer. It is the guarantee that people have equal opportunities to realize their full human potential -- a guarantee that people are afforded dignity and growth of character, not just intellect, and the guarantee of hope for the future. There must be understanding of the plight and potential of immigrant students, those who are already authorized and those who are trying to adjust their status, otherwise known as “undocumented immigrants.” And when you hear about these 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, I want you to think of my family. I stand before you today as one of them and as a product of Oklahoma’s investment in me, including that of Francis Tuttle Technology Center and the University of Oklahoma. And for that I want to say a deep and sincere thank you, most especially to Roberta and Candice, who literally changed my life.

Rob: Estimates are that there are roughly 1.8 million undocumented youth living in the United States. But of those, only about 65,000 graduate from U.S. high schools each year. And of those undocumented high school graduates, only about 7 percent will go on to college.

Female Announcer: Still to come on “Oklahoma Horizon,” America’s brain drain, but first, immigration reform and DACA.

Rob McClendon: When President Obama announced the deferred action for childhood arrivals, commonly called DACA, hopes were high in the immigrant community that undocumented young people could find a path to stay in this country legally. Many of these are children of undocumented immigrants who then grew up here, knowing no place other than this country, yet as they enter adulthood have had to live in the shadows unable to get something as simple as a driver’s license. And it is the struggles of these young people that convinced Akash Patel to start the non-profit Aspiring Americans, in part to help his very own sister.

Akash Patel: My family came to the United States in search of the American dream in 1993. I was born in London, but wasn’t there long enough to get the cool accent or anything. So you’re going to have to bear with me and listen to this accent. After waiting for more than 20 years, two decades, my parents and I became citizens just last year.

[Applause and cheers].

Patel: Thank you. Put another way, I was a year and a half old when I came to the country, but I didn’t become a citizen until the age of 24. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 and Francis Tuttle before that. I launched Aspiring Americans after I graduated in order to empower other immigrant youth to achieve the fullest education possible. That is the good news. The reason that I started Aspiring Americans, the reason that I plan to spend my life in the service of others is because of what happened to my sister, Necia. I had never been so thrilled to receive mail as I was on the day that our green cards arrived. Finally after 16 years of waiting, during my senior year in high school my family received the good news we’d desperately been waiting for. We weren’t illegal anymore. We didn’t have to life in fear or worry about cops pulling us over asking for our papers. I could realistically plan for college and get a driver’s license. I carefully reviewed all of this paperwork to make sure that it was there, that everything was real, that I finally made it. I counted three green cards -- one for me, and one for each of my parents. But where was my sister’s? When we arrived with visitor visas in 1993, we knew we should immediately apply for our green cards. What we didn’t know was how backlogged and broken the immigration system would be. Our original visas expired while we were waiting for our green cards because of these delays. As a result we were classified as unauthorized, or undocumented immigrants, and so we were allowed to adjust our status many, many years later. Moreover, people who apply for the green cards but turn 21 in the interim are kicked off the application. It’s a rule called “aging out.” We discovered this with the absence of my sister’s green card the day ours arrived. She was 23. Necia aged out. But Necia never complained. After graduating from OU with a bachelor’s in microbiology, she was told that she couldn’t go on to grad school, accept any job offers, or complete any internships because she had been denied her green card. With this valuable degree in microbiology, she had nothing else left to do. So she decided to take her skills and passion and volunteer -- 40 plus hours a week at OU’s research campus. This went on for week after week, month after month, giving the best of herself to the study of health and disease without any promise of reward or relief. But then everything changed when President Obama announces deferred action for childhood arrivals program in 2012. That allowed Necia to enroll in the PHD program for microbiology at OU. DACA, this federal program, allows people like my sister Necia to get a driver’s license, a work permit, a Social Security number and permission to attend grad school while they try to sort out their immigration status legally. And this is such a critical benefit, DACA, while we wait for Congress to painstakingly negotiate immigration reform. The least we can do is empower dedicated students to succeed and contribute for our economy and society. Indeed the very first thing my sister did after receiving DACA was discover a new species of bacteria that exists in the human stomach. She published it. She has since received awards for her work and presented at international conferences. Just this year she presented her research at Boston and Nashville and is now set to go to India to learn new laboratory and research techniques so we can strengthen our knowledge of health and disease here at home. And I can’t even imagine how many other Necias are out there. It has taken my whole life up to this point to realize the American dream and now that I’m here, now that I’ve reached the mountaintop, I know it is my responsibility to help all the other Necias climb this peak. And that’s what Aspiring Americans has been about -- helping Oklahoma’s most vulnerable students that are also the most dedicated. Regardless of your skin color, economic class or immigration status, Oklahoma’s educators, communities and most importantly legislature must continue to empower all students to succeed, especially those who are most vulnerable but who are equally passionate and able. We must be committed and benevolent giants so that everyone is able to envision and secure the future they deserve. By so doing, we will have the privilege of seeing all the Necias of the world will accomplish.

Rob: And we’re happy to tell you, not only has Akash graduated from the University of Oklahoma and started his own nonprofit to help other immigrants, this fall he enrolled in Michigan Law School. And as for immigration law, because President Obama authorized the DACA program through an executive action, the future of recipients still remains uncertain, subject to the outcome of the next presidential election and the next Congress.

Female Announcer: “Horizon” is at your fingertips – join us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to catch the segments you may have missed and our latest new content as it happens.

Rob McClendon: America’s schools are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for STEM graduates in the workplace. Science, technology, engineering and math are all fields where there are more jobs than there are qualified applicants. And here’s the rub. It’s international students studying at American universities who often excel in the STEM fields. Yet when it comes to getting a job, joining America’s workforce is getting harder and harder, so many top international graduates, well, they head home. It’s a brain drain that some believe hurts our economic competiveness in this new global economy.

Rob: For Ethiopian Fregenat Andya, finding her classes on the first day of school is the least of her worries.

Fregenat Andya: It’s not really easy for us to come here.

Rob: Andya is one of a record number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges. And it’s not an easy journey.

Andya: It’s like, if you take it from just one school perspective, it’s like a year process to get to a school. But if you think of it like from all the applications you do, for me it took me like three years to, like, to come here.

Rob: International students have to prove not only do they have the money for tuition but the English skills to succeed in class. Dave Henneberry is the head of OSU’s Wes Watkins School of International Studies and says once here, international students take full advantage of what they’re offered.

Dave Henneberry: Some of them come from countries where it’s just a little bit harder to carve out a career than it is in the United States. And they know they’ve really gotta have their full game on and get as qualified and learn as much as they can in school. And so that attitude and desire to progress their career is something we find just really nice to work with.

Rob: But once educated, we often lose some of the best and brightest to jobs abroad. International salaries now rival those here in the U S, while the pathway to a U.S. job is often littered with stumbling blocks.

Henneberry: Yes that’s true, and I’ve heard from the College of Engineering that some of their graduates now are returning home to India because they’re actually getting better salary offers there than they are in the United States. So we’ve seen it transfer where now the salary competitiveness of overseas occupations is on a par with what we’re offering in the U S. So it is an important issue – where are these highly qualified people going to locate and what industries will they develop and work in and which countries will benefit from those? And I think the argument that we make in the university is that the country that keeps the most qualified people will have those industries.

Rob: For Mexican national and OSU graduate Rodrigo Tello, staying and working in the U.S. is a goal but he knows it won’t be easy.

Rodrigo Tello: Here in the U S, I mean, we live in a multicultural society, no matter where you go. So it’s good for all. Most of the students not only hold a degree or have an international experience.

Rob: Special visas called optional practical training, or OPTs, are necessary for internationals to find employment in the U.S.

Tello: It depends. I mean it’s like really dropping a coin. And sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are not, sometimes you can find a job with your OPT. There is a lot of people that stays in the U.S. with an OPT status holding a degree from an American university, and they cannot find a job and they have to go back to their home country.

Rob: So just from sheer economics, is it in our best interest to have more international students here in the States and possibly more international students working in the States after they graduate?

Henneberry: It absolutely is in our best interest because when we look at Oklahoma and the friends of Oklahoma and where they’ll come from in the future, we’re developing them now here in Oklahoma State. I had a fellow from Germany come into my office last year, and he had been an exchange student at OSU 27 years earlier, and he just wanted to come in and tell me that through his entire professional life he had maintained a connection with Oklahoma – and what a wonderful thing. And so most of the students that go back home are international students. If they do do something with the U.S. in the future, they’ll try to do it within Oklahoma. And that spells opportunity for our state in terms of economic development, trade relationships, political relationships – having that population of people that are so familiar with Oklahoma is good for us.

Rob: Now, if you would like to learn more about the economic impact immigration has on this country, we do have links to a quick whiteboard lesson on just that streaming under this story at okhorizon.com.

Female Announcer: Want to see more stories like this? All our segments are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV.

Rob McClendon: Too often forgotten, Oklahoma’s historic all black towns still survive. Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we visit Rentiesville, Oklahoma, to see its new lease of life after decades of disrepair.

Ryan McMullen: The significance of our Honey Springs Visitor Center is the remarkable number of partners that have been brought together to put a project on in a community that, frankly, most of Oklahoma has forgotten about.

Rob: On Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Thanks for including us as a part of your day. I’m Rob McClendon. Hope to see you back here next week.

Female Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education with additional support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.