The words “deferred action” kept running through my head after I spoke with recent Armstrong graduate Yair Muñoz.
President Obama gave us “Deferred Action for Child Arrivals” in 2012. This policy has brought hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.
Muñoz was brought to this country when he was nine years old. He thought the bus from Mexico was part of some kind of a game. The kid didn’t know anything about borders.
Settled by his parents near Valdosta, he later spent 12 hours a day picking vegetables. The only break he got was when the trailer filled up and ran to the warehouse.
“Deferred action” sounds like “procrastination,” “waiting” or “laziness.” I don’t think anyone would say those words about the hard-working Muñoz.
He spoke no English, had no documents and, after a wrenching deportation, had no father and just about no dreams. But did he “defer action” for a better future?
“I was going to do whatever I had to do to get an education,” he says of his middle and high school years. “I wanted to represent the idea that it was possible.”
An English teacher, Rosetta Coyne, convinced him that he could surmount the mountains ahead of him. I almost don’t have to write that he graduated fifth in his high school class.
But now came Armstrong! A beast more daunting than “La Migra,” college tests your will. Muñoz knew that he wouldn’t survive without help.
So he surrounded himself with fellow undocumented students and became their advocate as a leader in SUYA (Savannah Undocumented Youth and Allies).
“It was more not just me helping people but them helping me,” he says of his activism. “I make sure that I say a lot of the things that I’m going to do to keep myself accountable.”
“Deferred action” sounds like “I don’t want to deal with it.” Muñoz didn’t say that when others asked for help. Neither did a private foundation that helped pay his tuition.
The university lists out-of-state tuition as $9,500 per semester – about three times the in-state cost. Without documents, he paid full freight and drove to school without a license.
Both crimes landed him in jail. Once, an officer pulled his car over and booked him. And in 2013, he stood up at a Regents meeting and started talking about tuition inequities.
Why could Beaufort County residents pay in-state tuition but he could not? Do we punish the sins of the father here? He didn’t stop arguing until they escorted him to the clink.
“We wanted to start a conversation,” he says of his act of civil disobedience, one that thrust illogic into the spotlight. “We wanted people to become interested in the issue.”
Obama’s “deferred action” gave Muñoz a driver’s license and legalized his construction jobs. (The scholarship only covered so much. So he remodeled homes while in school!)
Still, don’t the words sound threatening? Like they might come and deport him in the future? Or maybe the “action” implied isn’t an arrest but citizenship? I hope the latter.
Because Muñoz can’t work his way out of this one. It’s not that simple. And if anyone deserves the full rights and responsibilities of being called an American, it’s this man.
“If you start counting the costs, you’re going to give up,” he says. “But when you decide ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ it doesn’t matter what it takes. Just take action.”
This inspiring biology major is planning on medical school. But first, he’s organizing a medical mission trip to Central America. You can help him out at this website: