Former migrant’s incredible journey
The immigration judge’s question was simple: “Why should I let you stay?”
Leo Guardado had arrived illegally in Los Angeles as a 9-year-old boy, fleeing with his mother from their war-torn village in El Salvador. But by 2001 he was a college freshman, tired of hiding his immigration status from classmates and professors. And he was painfully aware that without a green card, he wouldn’t be able work legally no matter how many degrees he earned.
So he and his mother decided to emerge from the shadows and seek legal sanctuary.
“I volunteer, I’m involved in the school, I’m involved in community, I do service, I’m going to college,” Guardado told the judge. “I don’t have a criminal record. I don’t plan on having one. I will pay taxes when I actually can work.”
He told judge Henry Ipema that he had finished second in his class at a prestigious Catholic high school in Los Angeles and earned a full scholarship to St. Mary’s College of California. He laid out his life plan if allowed to stay in the U.S.
“I’ll be a model citizen in ways that many citizens aren’t,” Guardado said. “I’ve proven that already without being a citizen.”
In a rare occurrence in the U.S. immigration system, the judge granted them political asylum, and legal residency.
Guardado says he’s drawn to social-justice work and ministry because he knows what it’s like to need help from strangers - and get it.
“When you are a recipient of generosity on some level it creates a kinship moment with individuals who also might need help in your future,” Guardado said. “That’s not the kind of thing you forget.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from St. Mary’s and a master’s in theology from Notre Dame. In between, he spent a year in New York City, working with inner-city kids through the Lasallian Volunteer Program.
In 2008, he took a job in campus ministry at St. Mary’s. But he became disillusioned when the college laid off janitors and other staff workers during the recession.
He knows a higher-paying field would help his mother, who is 60 years old and still cleans houses. But, he says of a corporate job, internally “it’s not going to feed me.”
Read the rest here.