At the upcoming commencement ceremony at SMU in Dallas, one of the speakers will share a personal story about his life as an undocumented student.
The student says his main message will be of gratitude to the professors and staff who gave him an education and taught him, regardless of the documents he did or didn't have.
Jose Manuel Santoyo took his last exam on Tuesday but still has work to do before SMU’s graduation on Saturday. He's putting the finishing touches on a commencement address about his personal story as an undocumented college student.
“Anybody that's in a position of power has a responsibility, in a position of power or privilege or have a platform to take a stand for those that don't have that opportunity, for those that are not going to have a voice,” the student said.
Santoyo found his own voice years after he was brought to the U.S. by his family. He was 8 years old. His mother worked as a cook from dawn until late at night just to make ends meet.
“She was always working to provide for us. She couldn't really be involved in any of our school activities. She couldn't come to my choir concerts. She just couldn't do any of that,’ Santoyo explained. “She said, ‘If you guys succeed, it’s going to be on you because I'm doing everything I can to make sure you're taken care of right now.’ And to me, that’s something that always stuck with me because she was making so many sacrifices for us.”
What Santoyo has achieved he says wasn't easy. And neither is the road ahead.
Santoyo goes to school under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. It was started by the Obama administration and defers deportation action and grants work permits for two years at a time to certain young people brought to the U.S. without documents.
The president-elect campaigned on a promise to end DACA. Santoyo and other DACA students are unsure of what's next.
“Eventually, you get tired of not having opportunities,” Santoyo said. “You get tired of not being able to do the things that you want to do.”
In his speech on Saturday, Santoyo hopes the audience hears his message of gratitude for his education but also hears his call to fix an immigration system that limits what people like him can achieve next.
“If we can find common ground on issues, maybe we can move forward and find solutions to these problems,” he said. “But there needs to be a conversation.”
Santoyo is up for a DACA renewal in August. He's not sure if the program will still exist, so won’t look for a job at the moment. Instead, he plans to work towards a graduate degree.
Santoyo says he isn’t afraid of going public about his undocumented status. Instead, he wants to encourage other young people to pursue an education no matter their situation.