Pittsburgh, Pa. - - By Marlee Pinchok - Richard Perez traveled all the way from his home in Venezuela to study business and play baseball at Point Park University, but now he faces the possibility of being sent back.
Perez, 25, received a full-tuition athletic scholarship for baseball at Point Park, after transferring from Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio. Because a significant portion of his community college credits failed to transfer over, he must take additional classes, but his four-year baseball scholarship has expired.
Perez must maintain an active F-1 student visa, issued to international students attending a U.S. college, in order to graduate in the spring of 2019, or he will be deported.
Not only does Perez lack financial aid, but his student visa imposes restrictions that preclude him from receiving government and student loans, as well as limit him to working no more than 20 hours each week.
“I’m waiting for a miracle, basically,” Perez said. “If I’m not attending a full-time semester, my visa gets canceled and we all know what happens after that.” If his student visa expires, Perez will be forced to leave the United States immediately and return to Venezuela.
While the details of Perez’s situation are unique, he faces this challenge at a time when immigration is one of the central issues of the midterm elections. President Donald Trump was elected on a platform that included promises to build a wall along the Mexico border.
Dr. Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh, provides his view on the importance of immigration in the election cycle.
“Many Americans have parents, grandparents, and close relatives who are immigrants, including Trump. Whenever they are challenged as a result of their heritage, they obviously take that very seriously as a personal attack.
"...But with regard to Trump's current focus on the immigrant caravan, mostly of Hispanics, some voters in key states-- Arizona, California, etc., will see that as a plus because of potential crime increase, more welfare costs, and persons of a foreign 'culture' invading their 'space'. Overall too many voters allow their personal biases, not politics, to affect their vote.”
For Perez, the issue hits home because of the turmoil facing his home country. Most of Perez’s family members have left Venezuela, due to the corrupt government and extreme hyperinflation. His parents and brother used their life savings and revenue from selling their property to relocate to Orlando, Florida, on a tourist visa. They are trying to start a new life in the U.S. while to applying for political asylum, the protection granted by a nation for political refugees.
That means if Perez gets deported, he will be returning to Venezuela to live by himself, at least for a while, until he can gather the necessary funds and meet government requirements to reunite with his family.
To help raise enough money to continue his education at Point Park, Perez has started a GoFundMe account in hopes of graduating in spring 2019.
Perez said all this uncertainty has focused his mind on the upcoming American elections.
There has been a sharp decline in the number of F-1 student visas issued to international students from 2016 to 2017. According to recent State Department data, “the number of F-1 visas issued to foreign students seeking to attend college and other types of academic institutions in the United States decreased by 17 percent in the year that ended September 30, 2017."
“Since elections here are coming up, just know that I came from a country where it basically became a dictatorship,” Perez said. “Looking back in years past, people didn’t really take elections seriously. Once you have freedom, take care of it. It's a privilege.”
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