After not being able to complete her education an undocumented student decided to open up her own business. She is now teaching English to established U.S. citizens and newly-arrived immigrants.
By Uriel J. Garcia
PHOENIX – A petite woman inside a plain white room is sitting behind a small wooden desk teaching English to two Hispanic women.
The teacher, Lilly Romo, 23, runs an English-learning business located in Phoenix. Even though she is the head of her own business and creator of the class curriculum, she is not the registered owner because she's undocumented.
Romo's mother brought her from Mexico illegaly when she was 4 years old.
Even though she is undocumented she still reports her taxes to the Income Revenue Services. IRS provides an Individual Tax Identification Number for those who don't qualify for a Social Security Number. She registered the business too, as Arizona laws require by using an Employer Identification Number.
While Romo was going to college she was teaching English at a private school.
"The students were being treated badly," she said. "They were jamming [about] 30 students in a small classroom with no air conditioning."
When she was hired at the school she was expecting to be a teacher's assistant, but with not enough resources they put her to teach a class where the students would also ridicule her, Romo said.
She would ask for more resources to create a better curriculum, but her bosses ignored her because she was undocumented.
After working for three years teaching English at the private school she decided to start her own English-teaching business at an indoor swap meet.
"A former student of mine donated $1,800 to start up," Romo said.
With that money she bought ink, paper and pencils.
Eventually she gained a base of customers, which would garner enough revenue and eventually was able to rent out a building, where she currently teaches with the help of other teachers she has hired.
After Romo graduated from Carl Hayden High School she earned a two-year degree from Phoenix College. She wanted to continue her studies and become a nurse, but she faced one of many obstacles.
In order to enroll in the nursing program at Phoenix College she needed to provide a Social Security Number. Of course she didn't have one, so she put a temporary stop to her education.
There are an estimate of 2.1 million undocumented youth, according to the Migration Institute Policy, a non-partisan organization in Washington D.C. that analyzes U.S. immigration policies. From those 2.1 million 114,000 are from Arizona.
Last December the DREAM Act, a proposed legislation that would have granted a pathway to citizenship to certain undocumented students failed to pass the Senate, while the House passed it. The proposed legislation has been presented for the past 10 years and hasn't reached the president desk for a signature into law.
Romo doesn't like to disclose her immigration status to her students. She doesn't want to put them in an uncomfortable situation, much less the landlords, she said.
"I fear for my students and I don't think [the landlodrs] would be really comfortable renting out if they knew," she said. "But everyone knows I'm active in immigrants' rights."
Last year, at a rally held at the Arizona State Capitol she came out of the shadows to the media by saying she was undocumented. She was even willing to sit and talk to Sen. Rusell Pearce, R-Mesa, the author of many anti-illegal immigration laws, and share her story with him, but his office denied her and her peers' entrance to his office.
"To some people my mother is a criminal," she said of her mom crossing the border illegally. "But to me she is my hero."