R uby Salinas knows a thing or two about moving. Born in San Juan, Texas, she spent her childhood summers traveling the country with her family in search of farm work. Her mother and father harvested fields in California, Florida, and northern Texas. But they dreamt of a brighter future for their children. “My parents wanted us to break the cycle and go to college,” says Ruby. “They didn’t want us, or our children, to be migrants.” Ruby signed up for dual-enrollment classes at South Texas College in high school. Her early community college work earned her a full scholarship to the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, and she was recently granted early admission to dental school, where she will begin in 2012. The Salinas family is not alone. According to the Geneseo Migrant Center, 1 million to 3 million migrant workers leave their homes each year to work in agricultural fields, many coming to the United States from homes in Mexico and Latin America. The Pew Hispanic Center recently reported that one in four U.S. farm workers is an unauthorized immigrant, meaning they lack either a legal green card or U.S. citizenship. (For more, see: pewhispanic.org/reports/report. php?ReportID=126.) The contributions of these workers to their local economies are indisput- able. More than 85 percent of fruits and vegetables in this country require
Efforts are under way across the country
to open more doors to more students,
particularly to children of unauthorized
immigrants. In October, President Obama
tapped Miami Dade College President
Eduardo Padrón to chair the White
House Initiative on Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Padrón will steer a commission of 30 academics, business leaders,
and philanthropists tasked with helping
the Obama administration improve educational prospects for Hispanic students.
(For more, see: www2.ed.gov/about/inits/
Congress also has had discussions on
the topic. One effort supported by the
Obama administration and the American Association of Community Colleges
(AACC) is the Development, Relief, and
Education for Alien Minors (DREAM)
Act, which aims to put unauthorized
immigrant students on the path to U.S.
citizenship and qualify them for federal
The U.S. House of Representatives
passed its version of the DREAM Act
on Dec. 8, 2010. The Senate tabled its
version of the bill in favor of acting on
the House-passed legislation before the
end of the year. In September, Senate
Democrats attempted to attach a bill to
defense authorization legislation, but were
blocked from bringing the defense bill up
hand planting, hand cultivation, and
hand harvesting—jobs largely held by
migrant workers. For many of these
workers, however, opportunity often
ends at the crop line.
The road to a higher education—
to the dreams realized by Ruby Salinas
and her family—is pocked with
As efforts continue on Capitol Hill, colleges are doing their part to provide opportunities for the migrant workforce.
“Migrant workers are such an important part of our country, and many of
these folks are tax-paying citizens who
deserve equal access to success,” says
Luzelma Canales, interim associate dean
of community engagement and workforce
development at South Texas College (STC)
in McAllen, Texas.
The college, situated on the border
between Texas and Mexico, serves two
counties—one with a migrant population
of 35 percent, the other with a migrant
population of 15 percent. Ninety-five percent of STC’s students are Hispanic.
“If we don’t educate this population and
get them the skills they need to stay here
in this robust region, it could be devastating to our economy,” Canales says.
Texas—the country’s second-leading
state in agricultural production—has
approximately 132,034 migrant workers,
according to the Texas Department of
Housing and Community Affairs. Agricultural products add an estimated $16
billion annually to the state’s economy,
making agriculture the second-largest
industry in Texas.
It’s a similar story in Arizona, where
Mexican migrant workers have historically been an important part of Arizona’s
economy as miners, ranchers, and agricultural workers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists agriculture as a $9.2 billion
industry in Arizona, and the state leads
the country in cantaloupe production.
STC aims to help by offering classes
that better match migrant work patterns.
“Migrant students would come to us in
October and be ready to start college and
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37 December 2010/January 2011 COMMUNITY COLLEGE JOURNAL