Isabel Castillo, a 2007 EMU alum, will receive the first-ever Outstanding Young Alum award during Homecoming and Family Weekend, Oct. 11-13. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Outstanding Young Alum: Castillo Campaigns for Immigration Reform

Still in her 20s, Isabel Castillo ’07 is already a nationally recognized leader of the immigration-law reform movement in the United States. She was the commencement speaker at the University of San Francisco, was called one of “the 21 brave thinkers of 2011” by Atlantic magazine, and was featured prominently in the New York Times.

Risking deportation to her native Mexico, Castillo is publicly campaigning for sweeping changes in the way the U.S. deals with its 11 million undocumented residents. She is especially promoting a bill in the U.S. Congress – the DREAM Act – that would help people like herself who were brought to America as children by undocumented parents. DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.

When she spoke at the University of San Francisco in 2011, Castillo received an honorary doctorate “for unwavering advocacy for the passage for the DREAM Act.” She was the youngest EMU graduate ever to win an honorary doctorate.

A standout student at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va., Castillo faced bleak prospects for college and employment when she graduated. Many colleges do not admit undocumented students and most employers will not hire someone like her. She does not have a Social Security number.

EMU admitted Castillo, but she struggled to pay her way, since undocumented students do not qualify for the usual loans and scholarships. However she managed to graduate in 3½ years with the highest academic honors, earning a degree in social work.

Now she travels widely to speak and campaign while working as a server in a family restaurant in Harrisonburg. After speaking with Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia recently, he told Castillo’s story on the floor of the U.S. Senate during debate on an immigration bill.

“Every day about 1,000 undocumented immigrants get deported from the U.S.,” she says. “Deportations should end while Congress tries to pass immigration reform.”

“I haven’t worked with any other young alum who has accomplished as much as Isabel in such a short period of time,” says Jen Litwiller ’94, EMU’s director of career services. “She has the odds stacked against her and yet she continues to persist and successfully advocate for her cause.”