LAWRENCE — Ricardo Quinones has spent all but the first six months of his life in the United States.
"This is my home. This is my country," said Quinones, 20, an incoming Kansas University transfer from Kansas City, Mo., who plans to study psychology.
But a recent arrest at a protest in Washington, D.C., might get Quinones — an illegal immigrant — deported back to Mexico.
Quinones, along with two other Kansas City-area students, traveled to Washington last week and participated in a protest supporting the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act, which outlines a six-year path to citizenship for immigrant students like Quinones. To qualify, immigrants must have been in the U.S. for five years, have entered the country before age 16, and be enrolled in college or the military.
Quinones' chances of deportation were greatly increased when he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct while joining 20 other students from across the United States — including 18-year-old Shawnee Mission West High School graduate Diana Martinez — in a Capitol Hill protest.
Quinones said he decided to participate and risk deportation because he deserves the chance to work legally in the U.S. when he graduates from KU. Starting a career will be nearly impossible because of his citizenship status, he said.
Quinones, who will commute to KU after attending Johnson Community College for two years, couldn't go to a public university in his home state of Missouri because of a state law requiring proof of citizenship, but KU allows students to enroll regardless of citizen status. However, Quinones cannot receive student loans or federal grants to help cover tuition, and he works in construction in the summer to save money for the out-of-state tuition he'll pay in the fall.
His hard work and dedication to his studies is just one example of why other Americans should support the DREAM Act, said Erin Fleming, a KU law student and immigrant rights advocate who helped organize the protest.
"Because these are the children of immigrants. Because they had no say. Because they're students," she said. "They're a benefit to our society."
Quinones' family might not even be in the U.S. if it weren't for an illness he had at birth. Doctors in Mexico couldn't diagnose why the infant wouldn't eat, and his parents were told he would die without better treatment. His mom was a school teacher in Mexico, and his dad was only one year from a degree in engineering, but they came to the U.S. looking for a cure.
Within a week, he was diagnosed with easily treatable lactose intolerance.
Quinones said there's no way to know if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will proceed with deportation. But he doesn't regret his decision.
"It would be" worth deportation, he said. "I'm tired of living like this. I want some change."