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Oscar Vazquez

Oscar Vazquez recieves a waiver from the U.S. Government, he is now legal!

He took a big risk and won!


Senator Richard Durbin's webpage on Oscar Vazquez



Senator Durbin speaking on behalf of Oscar Vazquez on the floor of the US senate

ASU engineering grad returns to Mexico trying to do the right thing

by Richard Ruelas
- Jul. 4, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

MAGDALENA DE KINO, Sonora - Oscar Vazquez stood proudly in his cap and gown as he was introduced as an outstanding graduate from Arizona State University's Class of 2009. He was in the front row, not far from an applauding President Barack Obama, there to deliver the commencement address.

A year later, Vazquez sat in a dark bedroom in this dusty city, his engineering degree tucked in a scrapbook filled with other mementos of his college days.

Even as he listened to Obama speak of brighter futures, Vazquez knew his path first would have to go through Mexico, where he would admit his illegal status and ask for permission to re-enter the U.S.

"I decided to take a gamble and do the right thing," he said.

Shortly after graduation in May 2009, Vazquez moved to Mexico, separating himself from his U.S. citizen wife and year-old daughter in Phoenix. He figures to remain here at least through March, when, according to a letter from the government, authorities will decide whether he can legally return to the United States.

Vazquez stands by his decision to turn himself in.

"I've got to stay positive," he said. "I have to. Or else you get depressed just being here by myself."

Vazquez lives in a sparsely furnished two-room duplex, spending most of his time in the bedroom, the one room that has air-conditioning. He works the night shift at a factory that produces electronic parts for automobiles. He showed his degree in mechanical engineering to his bosses because they didn't really believe he had one.

Unwilling immigrant

Vazquez, 24, did not want to enter the United States illegally. But he was 12 and, despite his protests, did as his mother told him.

As he got close to college graduation, though, Vazquez knew he had gone as far as an illegal immigrant could go. Companies that hired college graduates did not look the other way when it came to immigration status, something Vazquez learned when he was denied college internships.

"I didn't want to get stuck in a low-end job and not be able to apply my degree to anything," he said.

Vazquez is seeking a waiver of grounds of excludability - essentially asking the government to forgive his illegal presence in the country and allow him to stay. Under the law, because Vazquez illegally remained in the country for so long after his 18th birthday, he is barred from the U.S. for 10 years.

Vazquez must make his case through paperwork. He waits in Mexico for the bureaucracy to churn out a de


"So far," Vazquez said, "the right way has been pretty hard."

Vazquez tries to keep himself busy so he doesn't dwell on his situation. He's teaching himself guitar. He's re-reading his college textbooks on rocketry and aerodynamics. He has a dirt bike, a great mode of transportation in this hilly town, where most streets are unpaved. The bike also is something for him to tinker with, keeping his mechanical skills sharp.

Quick visits

Karla, Vazquez's wife, visits when she can, usually for two days at a time. In June, she took a vacation from her job at an airport rental-car counter to spend a week with her husband. She pulled up to his apartment - one half of a house along a dirt road - and honked the horn. Vazquez emerged and approached the car.

"Say hi," Karla told the couple's daughter, Samantha. "Say hi to your daddy."

Vazquez leaned in and tickled Samantha's chin as Karla held her. The couple greeted each other with a quick embrace and a peck, as if Karla had just returned from the store, not a weeks-long separation. Karla said the two want to keep their emotions in check so that Samantha doesn't sense anything unusual. They hope this is resolved in March and that the baby won't remember being separated from her father.

Vazquez doesn't want to miss more of his daughter growing up. She took her first steps two weeks before Vazquez crossed into Mexico, the last milestone he was there to see.

When these trips started, the baby would recoil from Vazquez.

"It did take awhile for her to warm up," Karla said, as Oscar sat on the floor playing with Samantha. "She wouldn't go with him."

The three spend their visits in the apartment. No plans. They just want to be together.

Vazquez and his wife thought about, but quickly dismissed, the idea of the family moving together to Mexico to wait for the U.S. government's decision. "It's better for them to stay back home," Vazquez said. "There's nothing for them to come here for."

Father's footsteps

In his way, Vazquez is making the same sacrifice his father did: crossing a border in hopes of a better life. Vazquez's father, who lives in Phoenix, left the family's small village of Temósachic in Chihuahua and found work in a Phoenix factory that made box springs. He arranged for his wife and son to join him, but Vazquez didn't want to go. He had done well in primary school and won a middle-school scholarship, money his mother used instead on bus tickets to the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora. Vazquez remained silent on the seven-hour bus ride.

A man drove them to a hole in the border fence and told them to run. It seemed like a marathon to the young Vazquez, though he would later discover it was less than a mile to the Walmart parking lot in Douglas, where they were loaded into a car and driven to Phoenix.

Vazquez excelled at Carl Hayden Community High School in west Phoenix, sticking with the ROTC program even after finding out he couldn't join the military because of his legal status.

Vazquez gained a passion for engineering through the school's robotics club. He and three other club members beat out colleges - including MIT - to win a national underwater-robot competition. Their victory was detailed in Wired magazine.

Vazquez earned scholarships to attend ASU's College of Engineering. His picture graced 

the cover of the school's recruiting brochure. But he lost the scholarships in 2006 when Arizona passed a law that barred undocumented students •  from receiving state financial aid. He also had to pay out-of-state tuition, raising the cost by thousands of dollars. To finish school, Vazquez worked construction jobs and used donations from Wired readers and private scholarships.

Hoping on a DREAM

There's no way to know how many college graduates have sought permission to become legal residents. Most, Vazquez said, still are hoping Congress passes the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to immigrants who entered as children and went to college or joined the military.

Vazquez said he simply grew frustrated and wanted to take action.

"At least now we know the path we have to take," he said. "It's better to know than it is to be waiting."

Vazquez e-mailed advice to a fellow Arizona student who was trying the same process. In mid-June, he heard that the government had granted her waiver. He doesn't know why she was let in and he hasn't been.

Vazquez's character and accomplishments won't enter into the government's decision. The deciding factor is whether his exclusion from the country would cause "extreme hardship" for his wife.

Karla, a Phoenix native, is angry that her country has to ponder whether her husband of five years can live with his family.

"I see the part where, OK, everyone says they want to secure the border because - you know what? - there are a lot of bad people who come over," she said. "But for everyone who was brought over a child - they don't have a choice."

If Vazquez is denied re-entry, the family probably will move to Canada or Europe. Vazquez's engineering degree means he can find a job fairly easily.

"As it sits right now, I can go anywhere in the world except the United States," he said.

Vazquez tries to keep his situation in perspective. He likens the time away from his wife and daughter to military members serving overseas - fitting because Vazquez still wants to join the service, possibly the Marines, if he isn't too old when he gains residency status.

Much to offer

When he began this process, Vazquez wasn't sure how long he'd be away from his family. Karla and Samantha accompanied him to Juarez in September for his initial hearing.

He was denied his waiver, filed an appeal and was told to expect an answer in two months. He said goodbye to his wife and daughter and moved in with relatives back in his remote hometown, tucked into the mountains of Chihuahua, hoping it would be a brief separation.

But in November, he was told he needed to show more evidence of extreme hardship to his wife. The letter said his case would require further review and that he could expect an answer in 15 months.

Vazquez wanted to live somewhere close enough for his wife and daughter to visit often. But he didn't want to live in a border town because he thought it would be too dangerous. Magdalena, about an hour's drive south of the border, seemed the best choice.

But even in this sparsely populated town, locals told Vazquez not to wear a seat belt. In a hijacking, they told him, it's easier to get away if you're not strapped in.

Vazquez was hired at the auto-parts factory and quickly promoted to night supervisor. Some co-workers know he has an engineering degree.

"They always wonder, 'How come you're here if you're an engineer?' " Vazquez said. "It seems odd to them."

It seems odd to Vazquez, too. And if he allows himself to think about it, his frustration builds. He wants to use his education to contribute to the United States, which has to import engineers.

When he graduated, everyone, including President Obama, was applauding his achievement and his potential. It's hard to think the country would let all that go to waste.

"They have me," he said, his voice rising. "They schooled me. I know the culture. I know everything.

"And yet I'm not good enough to live back there."

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ASU grad who deported self gains legal residency


Oscar Vazquez knew he was taking a risk when he returned to Mexico for the first time in his adult life, starting what could have been a years-long odyssey to earn legal U.S. residency.Turned out the wait was just 361 days, thanks to some political intervention. Vazquez was back in the U.S. Monday, visa in hand.

"Even though it took a year, I feel it came out good," Vazquez said Monday.

The illegal immigrant, a recent Arizona State University graduate, knew he would need to obtain the necessary documents if he ever wanted to put his hard-earned engineering degree to work.Last year he essentially deported himself, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter to do what he said was the right thing - obtain legal residency.And as he settled into Mexico after filing all the paperwork, he feared the wait could stretch on for years. But the timely intervention of a U.S. Senator played a key role in Vazquez's return.Vazquez, who received international media attention as a high school student when his robotics team won a collegiate competition, had another splash of publicity with his struggle to reverse his illegal status. His story was told in the The Arizona Republic, on CNN and on the floor of the U.S. Senate.When Vazquez graduated from Arizona State University in 2009, he was one of the featured graduates whose tale was told in front of the stadium, where attendees included commencement speaker President Barack Obama.But Vazquez knew his legal status would prevent him from using his degree. So, he decided to turn himself in at the consulate in Juarez, Mexico, admit his illegal presence, and apply for permission to re-enter.

The government initially denied Vazquez's request and asked for additional paperwork, documenting the hardship to his wife and daughter, both U.S. citizens.Officials told him to expect a final answer in March. Meanwhile, Vazquez was living in Magdalena del Kino, a dusty town in Sonora, Mexico, working a night shift at an automobile parts factory.Vazquez said he was contacted by the office of Sen. Dick Dubin, D-Illinois. Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip, is a proponent of the Dream Act, legislation that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who entered as children and had attended college or joined the military.Vazquez said he once Durbin was involved, "it was fast."

A Durbin aide, who would only speak about the case on the condition his name wasn't used, said the office did make the Department of Homeland Security aware of the case.Vazquez's story was told in the Republic on July 4. On July 14, his wife, Karla Vazquez, received the letter saying her husband's visa waiver had been approved.Karla Vazquez, who had been taking regular trips to Mexico, to visit with her husband was about to head down for another trip when she decided to check the mail and saw the letter from the government.

"It just said, your waiver was approved," Karla Vazquez said.

She didn't tell Oscar the news until she drove down to Magdalena and saw him in person.

"We were just looking at it," Oscar said, "just to make sure it was true."

Oscar Vazquez had his appointment at the U.S. Consulate on Thursday. He received a packet of paperwork on Friday that allowed him to cross back into the United States.It was a much different entrance than his first one, at age 12. He and his mother dashed across the border near Douglas into a car waiting at a Wal-Mart parking lot.This entry was short on ceremony. Vazquez, 24, said a nearly emotionless-clerk told him that with his visa he was allowed to live and work in the United States.Vazquez walked out onto American soil and waited to catch a bus into Phoenix. Before then, he had a meal of KFC.His wife met him at the bus station. "It's just hard to describe," Oscar Vazquez said, about seeing his wife and daughter. "It's amazing just to be back home."Vazquez said he realized his was a unique case and that he was aided by political pressure. Had it not been for the publicity and a politician's intervention, he thinks he would have been denied.

"A lot of people think that: 'Why don't you do it the right way?'" he said. "But many people can't."

Had Vazquez been denied his waiver, he would have been barred from entering the United States for 10 years. He and his wife had discussed plans of moving to Mexico City, Canada or Europe.Vazquez expects to receive his Social Security card in about two weeks and will start looking for work in the engineering field.Vazquez was on the Carl Hayden High School team that beat out several colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an underwater robotics competition. The triumph of the four undocumented high school students was featured inWired magazine. Other national media outlets picked up the story. Movie offers followed.

On Monday, Vazquez showed up at Carl Hayden High School to talk with his robotics coach, Faridodin Lajvardi. Two other members of that four-person team also showed up, making for an impromptu reunion of that victorious team from 2007.

Lajvardi gathered his current Carl Hayden students around him in the hallway and introduced Vazquez. His students had seen video of Durbin telling Vazquez's story on the Senate floor.

"All that time, I kept telling you how you need to fight, fight, fight," he told the students. "It worked."

The team gave Vazquez a group hug.


Immigrant Oscar Vazquez fought for right to fight for U.S.

by Richard Ruelas - Aug. 30, 2010 11:42 AM
The Arizona Republic


On July 5, a newly minted U.S. citizen, Oscar Vazquez, found himself in a plane over North Carolina preparing for his first jump as a member of the Army's Airborne unit.

Being in that plane with his Airborne brothers fulfilled a dream Vazquez, 25, had had since he was in high school in Phoenix. The fun part would be jumping. The hard part happened earlier when Vazquez had to get the government to forgive him for entering the U.S. illegally as a child.

It was a year of leaps for Vazquez. In January, he visited a recruitment office and signed up for the Army. He became a citizen at the close of basic training, finally getting the document that had eluded him for much of his life. And he closed the year in Afghanistan, where his Airborne unit would leap into the treacherous mountains near the border with Pakistan.

"I just followed my dreams," Vazquez said on the phone from the Army's Fort Richardson, outside Anchorage, Alaska, days before his Afghan deployment. "I just keep pushing. You still go for it."

Vazquez, who left in late November on a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, said he looked forward to combat, seeing it as a "rite of passage."

"And part of it is that I want to do something about it," he said. "I'll look back and think of 9/11 and (think) there was something done after that, and I was part of it. It was like my little grain of sand."

Vazquez had wanted to be a member of the Airborne unit ever since watching the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" as a 15-year-old. He joined the ROTC at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix and loved the order and discipline. He continued the training even after learning he couldn't join the Army because he didn't have legal papers.

Vazquez came to the United States with his mother at age 12. It wasn't his choice. He pouted on the seven-hour bus ride from his home village of Temosachic in the state of Chihuahua to the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora. A man led them to a hole in the fence near Douglas, and Vazquez ran to a waiting car parked at a nearby Walmart.

Vazquez excelled in high school, becoming part of a four-student robotics team that made national news when it beat out several colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At 19, he married his wife, Karla, who was born in Phoenix, and started working on his engineering degree at Arizona State University. He paid out-of-state tuition at the school after a state law was enacted barring illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition or receiving state-sponsored scholarships. He worked construction jobs and won private scholarships.

Vazquez was one of three graduates singled out for recognition during the 2009 ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium, standing to accept the cheers of the crowd, which included that year's commencement speaker, President Barack Obama.

Even as he sat there facing the president, Vazquez knew his next step would involve leaving his wife and infant daughter behind. He knew not having legal status prevented him from getting a job that would make use of his degree. He decided to deport himself and re-enter the right way, requesting permission to continue his life in the United States legally.

Because he had stayed so long past his 18th birthday, the law stated he would be barred from re-entering the country for 10 years. Vazquez sought a waiver of the ban.

Vazquez expected it might take a while to return, but he and his wife wanted to do this while their daughter, Samantha, was too young to remember her dad being gone.

The U.S. government twice denied his request. It said it wanted more proof that his absence would cause unusual hardship to his wife and daughter. Vazquez settled in the small town of Magdalena deKino, Sonora, and got a job working the night shift at an auto-parts factory. His wife and daughter would come down a few times a month for visits.

Vazquez's story of self-deportation appeared in The Republic in July 2010. Ten days later, Vazquez's wife opened the mail to find her husband's request for re-entry was approved. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had asked immigration officials to take another look at the case.

"His story is nothing short of incredible," Durbin said of Vazquez during a November phone interview. "And when he gets back, what does he do? He volunteers to risk his life for his country, a country where many people have not had very positive things to say about him and people like him."

Durbin told Vazquez's story on the floor of the U.S. House as an argument for legislation called the Dream Act, which would give legal status to certain immigrants who crossed the border illegally as children. Durbin has introduced the bill in every congressional session since 2000.

"His background was just remarkable in terms of what he had been able to achieve against the odds," Durbin said.

Legal papers in hand, Vazquez left Mexico and unceremoniously re-entered the United States by walking through the port of entry in El Paso in August 2010. No one was there to greet him. He grabbed some fast food and caught a bus back home to Phoenix.

Vazquez applied for jobs and ended up with an offer in December 2010. But, by then, he had already decided he would fulfill his goal of joining the Army.

"I always wanted to do it," he said. "Even when I was in Mexico, it was something in the back of my mind."

He enlisted in January and began basic training in April. In May, during the final weeks of training, his fellow trainees gathered in a conference room to watch Vazquez become a citizen.

It wasn't a major change in his life, Vazquez said. He had always felt American and still kept the same goals and aspirations.

"Of course, I needed it to be able to do the things I wanted," he said. "I'm still the same person I was."

It did bring him some relief. The threat of deportation always lingered as he lived in Phoenix.

"It was something I thought about when I drove around with (daughter) Sammy," he said. "Every single time.

"Now, it's just like, OK, I can go anywhere I want," he said. And with his military credentials, "probably even places you can't go."

Vazquez was sent to Alaska, another border state, but with few similarities in climate. "In the winter, it's a big difference from the heat in Arizona, but you get used to it real quick," he said.

There was one decent Mexican-food place nearby. For familiar home-cooked meals, Karla Vazquez said her mother mailed up frozen ingredients.

His family lived in a condo on the barracks. But they will move to larger quarters by the time Vazquez returns from the front line. Karla is due to deliver the couple's second child in March.

For now, Vazquez finds himself separated from his family again.

Last time, it was so he could wage a personal struggle to return to the United States. This time, it is so he can help his country with its battles, something he has long sought to do.

"I'm living my dream right now," Vazquez said.

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