Calderon agrees that the recent policy change is a minor fix to a larger problem. For him, the ultimate goal is reforming the immigration system so that his friends, family, and community members no longer live in fear of deportation and have access to the same opportunities as other Americans. That goal, he admits, is daunting.
But not impossible.
“I don’t believe in ‘you can’t do’ anymore,” Calderon said. “I know we’re going to do it and we’ll find a way.”
Calderon’s experience in the United States reflects the obstacles and opportunity of living in the country undocumented. Within moments of crossing the border illegally from Mexico in 2005, Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents stopped Calderon, his brother, and his mother, who had returned to Honduras to fetch her boys.
Calderon said his mother wanted to protect them from rising gang violence in their hometown.
“Over there someone getting killed everyday was normal,” Calderon said. “I couldn’t even go to another part of my city because gangs would question you and ask where you were going.”
Calderon’s mother had already been living in the United States when Honduran nationals received temporary protected status following devastation from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Because of that, Calderon and his brother were not immediately sent back to their grandmother’s home in Honduras. Instead, they were issued a removal order and a court date. His opportunities in the United States were immediately limited.
“I thought to myself, I’m going to high school and that’s it,” Calderon said.
After finishing high school, Calderon started working construction with his father because he feared applying to college would alert immigration officials and lead to his deportation. But a chance encounter with a recruiter at Miami Dade College changed his fortunes.
Maggie Aguiar, a retired recruiter for Miami Dade College, helped Calderon and many other undocumented students in Miami-Dade County apply for school and secured funds for their education.
“Their problem was my problem because I could see their situation,” Aguiar said. “I was simply a vehicle to help others excel.”
Aguiar remembers Calderon as a young man hungry to learn and hungry to help others. She helped him navigate the application process and secured a full scholarship for him after his first semester.
“I took that opportunity as a sign that they were paying for me to do something big,” Calderon said. “I’m really privileged to be here.”
When he’s not studying for his degree in civil engineering, Calderon visits high schools to encourage other students to apply to college. He advises undocumented students on their options and opportunities during and after school. And during his time off, Calderon visits elected officials, urging them to pass legislation that removes barriers for undocumented students so they can achieve their educational goals. He does this despite the fact that he has been ineligible for any provisions of the DREAM act since 2010 when a language change narrowed the age range to those who could benefit from the bill.
“When I first saw that change and realized I don’t qualify, I was mad,” Calderon said. “But then I realized that when I joined, I didn’t do it for only for myself. I did it to help others and my community.”