DACA student succeeds on and off court

I prefer that my column be about local, sometimes personal, events, rather than wading into the already overpopulated pond of columnists writing about national issues.

But the DACA debate is local — and personal, for me. When I read about the issue, my memory bank immediately clicks back to a 10-year-old who had a drive then that remains evident today, more than a dozen years later.

Remi Mejia was a whirlwind on the basketball court as a 10-year-old and still is, now as a graduate student who is the leading scorer and a leader of the Southern Oregon University women's basketball team. She is literally the face of the program, as evidenced on the Raiders website.

She is also a poster child for the value of DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which will end in less than a month unless Congress and the White House can find a way to protect American kids like Remi. If they don't, she and another 800,000 young adults and children could be deported, sent back to countries that for many have long since stopped being a place they remember as home, if they remember it at all.

When I read now of Remi's basketball prowess for the nationally ranked Raiders team, I remember the 10-year-old in our Rotary Club basketball program. The program, which continues today, was formed to provide a basketball experience — and team experience — for kids who likely had never been on a team before and quite possibly never would be after. Their lack of basketball experience and skills was matched by the Rotary coaching staff, but somehow we all learned a few things along the way.

Remi stood out from the crowd, however, by dribbling through that crowd on her way to the hoop, and sometimes pulling up to knock down a jumper just for good measure. She also was quite polite in listening as we Rotarians imparted our basketball "knowledge."

She still stands out, and for more than her 16.8-points-a-game average for the 22-2 Raiders. She already holds a bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice from Portland State University and is now pursuing a master's degree in education. She says she'd like to become an investigator working on child protection, and perhaps earn a doctorate.

She has the right stuff to achieve whatever she sets her mind to. It starts with the strength imparted to her from her parents, who both worked two jobs as they carved out a piece of the American dream for themselves and their children.

Remi's DACA status is hardly unique in the Rogue Valley.  A Mail Tribune story published last fall focused on Linda Escot, a junior at SOU who is taking tough science classes to prepare for a career in medicine, and SOU graduate Ricardo Lujan, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration. Their mentor is successful builder and developer Laz Ayala, who himself came into the U.S. illegally as a child. He went on to earn citizenship thanks to a program initiated by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

These are the young people that President Trump and Republicans in Congress would expel from the country. And who will take their place? In 2017, there were more than 6 million unfilled jobs in the United States, 1.1 million of them in the health care field alone. Where are all these blue-blooded Americans that need those jobs? They don't exist, in many cases because they didn't have the drive, determination and guts of all the Remis, Lindas and Ricardos who are fighting the odds to succeed.

And they will succeed. If we let them.

— Bob Hunter is associate editor of the Mail Tribune. Reach him by email at bhunter@rosebudmedia.com.


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