Atlanta is a vibrant city in the Southeast of the United States with an increasing Hispanic immigrant population. Foreign-born residents have felt the anti-immigration rhetoric in the political environment, particularly those young adults who did not know they were not citizens until they tried to get their driving license later in life. The state of Georgia has an estimated 22,180 people who fall into this category and that are eligible for "Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals" or DACA protections. In 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute, only 35% of the eligible population participate in the program. To be eligible for DACA status, the solicitant must have entered the United States as a minor before June 2012 and without documentation, been continuously resident since then, be a student or graduated from high school or equivalent, and lack of a criminal history. With DACA, these young adults are protected from deportation and can get lawful employment authorization. DACA must be renewed and approved every 2 years, but it allows them to live a normal life without fearing deportation.
Dr Leticia Valencia - Director of the Program
Centro Hispano Marista was originally opened in 2012 by members of the Society of Mary and Hispanic leaders in the community to help these young adults who were missing their education requirement to apply for DACA. This vulnerable population was subjected to many frauds, including fake schools. Centro Hispano Marista was able to help hundreds of DACA recipients since then, and now has evolved into the largest bilingual GED [General Education Diploma] school for adults in the state. Centro Hispano Marista welcomes any adult who wants to study their high school equivalency. Hosted at Marist School campus every Tuesday night, more than 400 students enroll each semester to take GED (high school equivalency test) classes in either English or Spanish at an affordable tuition. All teachers in the program are volunteers who donate their talent and time to see these adults get a chance to a better future.
Student Graduation - Marist Atlanta 2018
"Only with the support of the Society of Mary and private donors has this program been able to survive all these years", says Leticia Valencia, program director.Valencia explains that education changes the opportunities for students and graduates by helping them make better decisions, get better jobs, and open the door to a college education or technical careers. It also helps the student's children to have a better likelihood to stay in school and graduate from high school or beyond. Additionally, the community also gets access to a pool of better prepared employees and residents who care in giving back. She argues that having a program that gives adults a second chance to work on their education is not only is the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.
The Society of Mary has permeated the vision and mission of Centro with the caring and mercy values to those who need it the most. As of today, over 250 adults have graduated from the program and can now aspire to a brighter future because of this program. To learn more the program, please visit www.centrohispanomarista.org.