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National Spotlight on EMU Grad Isabel Castillo

2007 EMU graduate Isabel Castillo, activist for the DREAM Act

Isabel Castillo ’07 has become a nationally recognized spokesperson for the plight of undocumented young people in the United States.

Castillo was featured in a Feb. 20, 2011, New York Times article, “Dream Act Advocate Turns Failure into Hope.” This publicity led Jesuit-run University of San Francisco to invite her to be its commencement speaker this spring and to offer her an honorary doctorate.

On Feb. 24, 2011, Castillo was interviewed for Telemundo, the second-largest Spanish-language content producer in the world.

Castillo first came to public attention on July 20, 2010, when she was one of 20 undocumented young people arrested in Washington DC for staging non-violent, sit-down actions at the Hart Senate Office Building to appeal for passage of the DREAM Act. (The Act was derailed when it was five votes short of advancing in the Senate.)

Castillo was brought by her parents as a 6-year-old to the United States. She graduated from Turner Ashby High School near Harrisonburg, Va., with a 4.0 GPA. She graduated magna cum laude from EMU, with a major in social work.

Congressional passage of the DREAM Act – the acronym stands for Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors – would give undocumented immigrants ages 12-30 a path to legal residency. They would be able to apply for citizenship if they serve in the military or get a college education. It would take at least 10 years and perhaps as much as a 15-20 years for a person to satisfy the requirements.

On Aug. 26, 2010, Castillo spoke eloquently at a town hall meeting held by Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican pushing for tougher deportation policies. In January 2011, she went to Richmond, the capital of Virginia, and testified before a House of Delegates subcommittee that was considering a proposal to bar undocumented students from state-supported colleges.

In October 2010, Bob Edwards of National Public Radio interviewed Castillo for a segment of his national show.

Castillo’s biggest risk is being deported and ending up alone in an unfamiliar setting in Mexico, away from her home, her family and her friends. “At first, I’d only allow the media to shoot my face turned away and only my first name,” she told the New York Times reporter.

“And then it just progressed. I said, O.K., use my face and you can say I went to a local university. Then it was, I graduated from Eastern Mennonite University and I’m Isabel Castillo.”

Castillo paid her way through EMU by working 30 hours a week at unsalaried casual jobs, such as babysitting and waitressing, and continues to survive by working in this manner, while accepting multiple (usually unpaid) invitations to speak on the DREAM Act.

A reporter for the Capital News Service in Richmond quoted Isabel as saying: “I started doing activism because the issue affected me, but now I do it for the thousands of people like me who are scared to stand up. I have a sense of relief.”

She adds, “I’m not ashamed or scared. I’m not a criminal. I’m no longer going to hide in the shadows.”

Story by Bonnie Lofton
Category: Alumni
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