The organization flew her to Miami, Fla., where it held its 23rd annual AIJ Awards Dinner. In a letter to the honoree, AIJ Executive Director Cheryl Little said that Ms. Islas is an “ideal recipient for this award,” noting that she has “given voice to immigrants at this critical time, when they are being driven even further into the shadows, and your family’s powerful story is an inspiration to us all. It has shined a light on the plight of Dreamers and other hardworking immigrants whose value to this country is immeasurable.”
In receiving the award, Ms. Islas joins a list of past recipients who include honorees lawyer and author Jeffrey Toobin, actresses Anne Hathaway and Rosie Perez, immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien, and others.
A biological sciences major, Ms. Islas was part of the first group of Dreamers that enrolled at DSU in 2016 as part of the then-newly established Opportunity Scholarship – created by TheDream.US specifically for undocumented immigrant students largely barred from enrollment in state institutions of higher education in their home states.
During her first year at DSU, Ms. Islas and her family’s story was highlighted along with other DSU Dreamers in a New York Times feature article. By her second year, Ms. Islas and other DSU Dreamers – the name adopted for undocumented students or otherwise known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) – began traveling to Washington to lobby Congress members concerning the plight of their status.
Ms. Islas said that the ongoing negative development in the current White House Administration’s immigration policy was a significant point of stress for Dreamers at DSU, but it also prompted them to take action by lobbying on Capitol Hill.
“I’m the kind of person who just can’t sit around and not do anything about something that affects me, my family and other people,” she said. “It is definitely stressful, but the fact that we have each other here in the Dreamer community is very encouraging.”
Ms. Islas and other Dreamers have been lobbying in Washington, D.C. through periodic trips there since the present administration rescinded the DACA Policy in 2017. She believes their efforts are making a difference.
“This past summer, I was lobbying for a petition for the House to bring down a vote on DACA legislation, and all we needed was to get the last few Democrats to sign onto the legislation,” she said. “The last Democrat we talked to two hours later signed onto the legislation.”
Through it all, Ms. Islas – like many of the DSU Dreamers – has maintained a high academic performance status. A native of Mexico who grew up in Gainesville, Ga., she aspires to be doctor.
She said the notification that she was being recognized by the AIJ was a big surprise. “It’s simply a great honor,” Ms. Islas said. “It is definitely encouraging and motivates me to keep going and not give up just because there is an obstacle in the way.”
Photo cover: Ms. Islas with Cheryl Little, executive director of the Americans for Immigrant Justice organization, which presented the award (Photo: Submitted by Americans for Immigrant Justice).
Photo #2: Credits Carlos Holmes