West Aurora grad keeps moving forward, despite obstacles
By Kalyn Belsha email@example.com October 12, 2013 7:16PM
Ivan Rangel, 18, was approved last year for a special program that gives undocumented immigrant youth the ability to work legally in the United States, but it does not qualify him for federally funded financial aid, so he is paying for his Waubonsee Community College tuition out of pocket. Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:47AM
Ivan Rangel thought soccer would be his ticket to college.
Rangel, 18, didn’t quite have the grades to get an academic scholarship. But after catching the West Aurora High School varsity soccer coach’s attention as a freshman, Rangel hoped he was on his way to an athletic one.
But that summer he tore his ACL, a major ligament in the knee, while playing in goal. Rangel needed surgery and his soccer career came to an unexpected halt.
“I came back not with the same aspect in life,” he said. “The only way I saw myself getting out of Aurora or being successful was soccer. After that busted, I was like, I’m done.”
Rangel took the news especially hard because he immigrated to Aurora from Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico, when he was 18 months old on a tourist visa. The visa expired, leaving him without legal status, which he knew would limit the financial aid he could seek to attend college.
After the knee injury, Rangel said he had a hard time focusing and felt sad all the time. He didn’t see a future for himself and his grades at West High started slipping.
“I could be an A student but I didn’t do so,” Rangel said. “At a point in high school I lost hope when I kept saying, ‘Oh you can’t go to college’ or ‘It would cost you too much.’ I went down to a C, D student, close to failing.”
Then, he started to get involved in the Dreamers movement, a group of undocumented youth who advocate for immigration reform that would address their illegal status.
And last year, the federal government created a program, known as Deferred Action, that allows some undocumented youth to seek permission to work legally and receive a two-year reprieve from deportation.
Rangel applied for the program and was accepted last October, so he now can drive and work. He has two part-time jobs, working at Advanced Auto Parts in Aurora and teaching at an after-school cultural arts program at East Aurora’s Rollins Elementary through the nonprofit Family Focus.
He uses the money to pay for tuition and books at Waubonsee Community College, which he started attending in August. It wasn’t his first choice, but it’s his best and most affordable option for now, he said.
“I wanted the full college experience, living in the dorm and everything,” he said. “But I got to the point where I gotta suck it up and just do it.”
He hopes to transfer after two years and pursue a master’s of business administration that will help him work in marketing or public relations.
Rangel keeps quiet about his immigration status, he said, and he doesn’t discuss it much, especially not with his 13-year-old brother, who is a U.S.-born citizen.
“I want him to focus on school,” Rangel said. “I wanted him to do better than me because he has a better chance. With him, if he keeps going he will get scholarships.”
His brother is a high honor roll student, Rangel said, and sometimes that fact causes him to slip out of older brother mode and into dad mode. Rangel reminds his younger brother to do his homework and get to bed early, and invites him to participate in Rangel’s mentorship group.
“I try to be that parent to him,” Rangel said.
Rangel said he doesn’t feel jealous of his U.S.-born siblings — he also has a 9-year-old sister — but sometimes he feels angry with his father, who wanted Rangel to be born in his native Mexico, not in the United States.
“My grandma and my mom wanted me to be born here, just in case this happened and my dad chose not to,” Rangel said.
For now, Rangel and his parents are waiting on a petition for U.S. residency through his maternal aunt and uncle. His family got lucky, he said, because they applied more than a decade ago at a time when they were allowed to stay in the United States while they waited for the paperwork to process.
But the clock is running out on that application. When Rangel turns 21, he’ll have to start all over again because he’s no longer considered a child.
But that won’t deter him, he said. He’s already brainstormed other options, like a move to Australia.
“I’ll just keep going until there is a dead end,” he said.