Student Spotlight with Tania Chairez

Tania Chairez - story

Mark Stehle

RAISING ARIZONA: Tania Chairez, 20, is from Phoenix but was born in Mexico. An undocumented resident, she came to the United States with her parents in 1998, when she was 5 years old.

OUT OF THE NIGHT THAT COVERS ME: In October 2011, Chairez, now a Wharton junior, revealed her undocumented status in a guest column in the Daily Pennsylvanian, calling herself “undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.” She says she decided to speak out after talking to other undocumented residents in Philadelphia, and the failure of the Dream Act. “I saw people sharing their stories of being undocumented and it was very relatable to me,” she explains. “It was something that I hadn’t experienced before, people outwardly expressing their immigrant status.”

SB 1070: Chairez says she feels Phoenix is “not very welcoming” to undocumented residents. It is so unwelcoming, in fact, that her parents had to leave the state. In some senses, she feels Philadelphia isn’t welcoming either. “It’s legal [in Phoenix] to not be nice, whereas people can hide it here.”
 
STAGING A PROTEST: In March, Chairez was arrested outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office at 16th and Callowhill streets while protesting for immigrant rights. She was charged with obstruction of highway and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, and spent 24 hours in jail. She received a sentence of community service; once completed, she will have a clean record.

A WOMAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY: Chairez says she is not sure if she is Mexican or American because neither culture accepts her. Mexicans view her as an outsider and even though she spent most of her life in America, she isn’t recognized as a U.S. citizen. “In a certain sense, I’m not fully American,” she says. “I’m kind of a unique thing in the middle, which is completely fine with me. But sometimes it would help to be recognized more by both groups.”

YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE: Chairez says the fear of deportation is “always, always” with her. But she believes it is not as threatening now because she has become a public figure. “The fear is very much there for my family because they could get deported at any time,” she says. “The fear for them is always going to be there.”

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE: Chairez says her goal is to become an American citizen. She has applied for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and, after receiving her Wharton degree, plans on working at a non-profit for a few years. Pending citizenship, she would like to attend law school. “I am interested in immigration law, however, I do intend to go into law school with an open mind,” she says.

Originally published on November 15, 2012