Path Home Shows 2016 Show Archive September 2016 Show 1639 Akash Patel - Undocumented Immigrants

Akash Patel - Undocumented Immigrants

Akash Patel founded the nonprofit Aspiring Americans to help undocumented immigrants become U.S. citizens.
Akash Patel - Undocumented Immigrants

Akash Patel - Undocumented Immigrants

For more information visit these links:

Aspiring Americans

University of Michigan - Akash Patel

U.S. Immigration and Customer Enforcement - DACA

Show Details

Show 1639: Akash Patel - Undocumented Immigrants
Air Date: September 25, 2016



Rob McClendon: When President Obama announced the deferred action for childhood arrivals, commonly called DACA, hopes were high in the immigrant community that undocumented young people could find a path to stay in this country legally. Many of these are children of undocumented immigrants who then grew up here, knowing no place other than this country, yet as they enter adulthood have had to live in the shadows unable to get something as simple as a driver’s license. And it is the struggles of these young people that convinced Akash Patel to start the non-profit Aspiring Americans, in part to help his very own sister.

Akash Patel: My family came to the United States in search of the American dream in 1993. I was born in London, but wasn’t there long enough to get the cool accent or anything. So you’re going to have to bear with me and listen to this accent. After waiting for more than 20 years, two decades, my parents and I became citizens just last year.

[Applause and cheers].

Patel: Thank you. Put another way, I was a year and a half old when I came to the country, but I didn’t become a citizen until the age of 24. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 and Francis Tuttle before that. I launched Aspiring Americans after I graduated in order to empower other immigrant youth to achieve the fullest education possible. That is the good news. The reason that I started Aspiring Americans, the reason that I plan to spend my life in the service of others is because of what happened to my sister, Necia. I had never been so thrilled to receive mail as I was on the day that our green cards arrived. Finally after 16 years of waiting, during my senior year in high school my family received the good news we’d desperately been waiting for. We weren’t illegal anymore. We didn’t have to life in fear or worry about cops pulling us over asking for our papers. I could realistically plan for college and get a driver’s license. I carefully reviewed all of this paperwork to make sure that it was there, that everything was real, that I finally made it. I counted three green cards -- one for me, and one for each of my parents. But where was my sister’s? When we arrived with visitor visas in 1993, we knew we should immediately apply for our green cards. What we didn’t know was how backlogged and broken the immigration system would be. Our original visas expired while we were waiting for our green cards because of these delays. As a result we were classified as unauthorized, or undocumented immigrants, and so we were allowed to adjust our status many, many years later. Moreover, people who apply for the green cards but turn 21 in the interim are kicked off the application. It’s a rule called “aging out.” We discovered this with the absence of my sister’s green card the day ours arrived. She was 23. Necia aged out. But Necia never complained. After graduating from OU with a bachelor’s in microbiology, she was told that she couldn’t go on to grad school, accept any job offers, or complete any internships because she had been denied her green card. With this valuable degree in microbiology, she had nothing else left to do. So she decided to take her skills and passion and volunteer -- 40 plus hours a week at OU’s research campus. This went on for week after week, month after month, giving the best of herself to the study of health and disease without any promise of reward or relief. But then everything changed when President Obama announces deferred action for childhood arrivals program in 2012. That allowed Necia to enroll in the PHD program for microbiology at OU. DACA, this federal program, allows people like my sister Necia to get a driver’s license, a work permit, a Social Security number and permission to attend grad school while they try to sort out their immigration status legally. And this is such a critical benefit, DACA, while we wait for Congress to painstakingly negotiate immigration reform. The least we can do is empower dedicated students to succeed and contribute for our economy and society. Indeed the very first thing my sister did after receiving DACA was discover a new species of bacteria that exists in the human stomach. She published it. She has since received awards for her work and presented at international conferences. Just this year she presented her research at Boston and Nashville and is now set to go to India to learn new laboratory and research techniques so we can strengthen our knowledge of health and disease here at home. And I can’t even imagine how many other Necias are out there. It has taken my whole life up to this point to realize the American dream and now that I’m here, now that I’ve reached the mountaintop, I know it is my responsibility to help all the other Necias climb this peak. And that’s what Aspiring Americans has been about -- helping Oklahoma’s most vulnerable students that are also the most dedicated. Regardless of your skin color, economic class or immigration status, Oklahoma’s educators, communities and most importantly legislature must continue to empower all students to succeed, especially those who are most vulnerable but who are equally passionate and able. We must be committed and benevolent giants so that everyone is able to envision and secure the future they deserve. By so doing, we will have the privilege of seeing all the Necias of the world will accomplish.

Rob: And we’re happy to tell you, not only has Akash graduated from the University of Oklahoma and started his own nonprofit to help other immigrants, this fall he enrolled in Michigan Law School. And as for immigration law, because President Obama authorized the DACA program through an executive action, the future of recipients still remains uncertain, subject to the outcome of the next presidential election and the next Congress.