Maria Torres, the first student to graduate from NIU’s Community Leadership and Civic Engagement major, attended Tuesday’s State of the Union address as the guest of U.S. Rep. Bill Foster.
Torres, who graduated in December 2012, moved from Mexico to suburban Carpentersville at age 15 as an undocumented youth.
Currently ineligible for citizenship, but granted work authorization through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, she is employed at Family Focus in Aurora, where she helps others navigate the immigration system.
At NIU, she found a home in the CLCE major, which develops students into problem solvers, organizers and social activists and which she said seemed “specifically designed for me.”
“I had always seen myself working in the community, helping the immigrant community find access to better resources, and after some research, teaching was not the right fit. I’m very lucky to have found the CLCE major,” she told NIU Today last February. “Most of the time, you’ll find organizations that you actually want to work for, and it just becomes a way of life. It doesn’t feel like a job. I understand the struggles, and I truly believe that people have power. You just need to organize them.”
Foster said he was pleased to hear President Obama’s call for comprehensive immigration reform – “It’s time for Congress to start listening,” the Naperville Democrat said – and applauded Torres and others for “taking action to make their voices heard on important issues.”
“I brought Maria as my guest today because her story is a powerful example of why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Foster said. “Maria learned English, worked her way through college and is now giving back to her community. But under our current laws, Maria has no path to citizenship.”
Tuesday’s journey to Capitol Hill wasn’t her first to the seat of U.S. government. She traveled there during spring break of 2012 with a group of CLCE majors.
“While discussing advocacy with the different entities we had access to,” Torres said at the time, “I was amazed to learn the extent to which a nongovernmental organization can define the political dialogue in support of societal values.”