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Cal soccer star keeping MLS dream alive amid DACA bureaucracy

By - Nov 13, 2017

By Jorge Ramos/For The Sporting Nation

An elderly man stands behind a podium with the seal of the United States government seal stamped across it. Before he begins his important speech, he grins slightly and greets everyone in the room. 


He glances down and begins to read: “I am here to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama Administration is being rescinded,” United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions said to a room full of media members on the morning of Sept. 5.


Jose Carrera-Garcia, captain and senior attacking midfielder for the Cal Berkeley Bear’s Men’s soccer team is one of the 800,000 affected by Sessions’ announcement. 


After much speculation around the White House, it was official. An estimated 800,000 young undocumented students and adults would be no longer safe from deportation under the signed executive action of former President Barack Obama in 2012 known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).


Children like Carrera-Garcia who immigrated with their parents to the United States at a young age, who grew up in America and pursued a higher education, no longer have the peace of mind. 


Carrera-Garcia explained that he was disappointed when he heard what was happening to the program that allowed him to pursue higher education at one of the best universities in the country. 


“I never imagined that this would happen in my life (attending Cal). It kinda sucks seeing younger students that are working toward something, that I am almost done with,” Carrera-Garcia said.


 “It’s kinda disappointing and sad especially because you know every DACA student … is doing the right thing, no criminal record, no nothing. They’re here going to school and to better their lives and professionally to be an asset to the country in whatever they decide to do to pursue a career in.”


Dr. Alexander Aviña, Associate Professor of Latin American History at Arizona State, explained that setting emotions aside, there is no economic benefit for the removal of the DACA program. 


“There is no economic basis for this. They’ve showed studies that show DACA recipients are a net plus for the U.S. economy,” Aviña said. “These are people who are contributing to U.S. society and U.S. economy. They’re not taking away jobs. They’re not having a negative effect on U.S. born workers. This is strictly a political move.”


Regardless of the motive, there is no doubt that Carrera-Garcia has benefited from this program as it has allowed him to pursue a degree in social welfare. He is also a highly talented Major League Soccer prospect for the 2018 draft, having led the Bears in assists this season with nine as Cal heads into potseason play this week.

Just like every elite collegiate athlete, he has an especially unique journey.


At five years old, Carrera-Garcia came to the U.S. on a tourist visa from Puebla, Mexico with the intention of being reunited with his parents who had arrived in California months earlier.


“I didn’t know where I was coming, I didn’t know what America was … all I remember it was something that I didn’t want to do,” Carrera-Garcia said. “I was so attached to family and cousins in Mexico. They (his parents) decided for me to stay here (U.S.), which was a better life choice for me than Mexico.”


At a young age Carrera-Garcia explained that since the first day he touched a soccer ball he knew he wanted to be a professional soccer player. “As a young kid, you don’t think of school, you say you want to be a soccer player,” Carrera-Garcia said. 


He added that because being the first of his family to grow up in the U.S. that he and his family had no idea about what it took to be academically successful. “My family had no ideas about school, nothing,” Carrera-Garcia said. “I don’t blame my parents they came here and just worked. As long as I was in school and staying out of trouble, they were happy.”


As Carrera-Garcia’s youth career started to take off, he started to gain attention from youth national team coaches and college coaches alike from playing on Arsenal, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy. 


Despite being told and educated by his parents from a young age about his legal status in the U.S., Carrera-Garcia explained that he did not fully understand until national team coaches came calling and he could not join because he was undocumented. 


“I was lucky enough to be seen by these scouts to be considered for the national team pool and stuff like that and not being able makes you come to the realization of that status you’re in,” Carrera-Garcia said.


Not only was his legal status an obstacle from pursing his soccer endeavors, Carrera-Garcia’s grades started to become an issue in his freshman year at Chaffey High School in Ontario, Calif. However, with the help of John Santia, a guidance counselor at Chaffey, who also happened to be the father of his best friend and teammate Ben Santia, Carrera-Garcia received the much-needed educational support that was lacking in his life at the time. 


Santia explained that his relationship with Carrera-Garcia dated back to when both his son and Carrera-Garcia played club soccer together. “We would drive Jose all over the state because of his legal status,” Santia said. 


Santia added that the reason he helped Carrera-Garcia out so much was because of how he was raised.


“Jose’s parents are some of the most humble and kindest people you’ll ever meet,” Santia said. “He definitely took on the personality of his parents.”


After Carrera-Garcia’s freshman and sophomore year of high school, he ended it with a 2.0 GPA. It was not until his sophomore year playing in the U.S. Development Academy showcases when Carrera-Garcia was starting to gain the attention of college coaches, but was still reluctant about pursing any education past high school because of his goal of just to play soccer.


“Having people like John Santia, who once they saw that I was being recruited to go to top schools like UCLA and Berkeley… taught me the importance of an education and that’s when I realized I need to turn my life around,” Carrera-Garcia said. 


Carrera-Garcia needed 16 classes in order to become eligible to receive an NCAA Division I soccer scholarship and had to retake some classes online as a result of his poor grades throughout his first two years of high school. 


In spite of all the classes he had to take, Santia said that he continued to have faith that Carrera-Garcia would go to college. “There was no doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t be going to college,” Santia said. 


Once Carrera-Garcia became eligible for official recruitment he was sought after by some of the top soccer universities, which included the University of Akron, UCLA, Cal and University of California-Irvine.


Eventually, Carrera-Garcia decided to pursue his athletic and academic career at Cal for the fall 2013 semester. For undocumented students like Carrera-Garcia, DACA aided them in reaching their dream of higher education by providing the financial resources to overcome the financial barrier that comes with college.


Carrera-Garcia explained that he has been a part of DACA since he was a senior in high school and it was DACA that allowed him to receive California grants to attend Cal.


“Whatever my Cal-grant doesn’t cover, then I get the rest of the scholarship from Berkeley through athletics for soccer,” Carrera Garcia said.


According to Educators for Fair Consideration, a non-profit that advocates for undocumented students, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school and only about 10,000 graduates from college. Carrera-Garcia’s attending college was an accomplishment, and graduating with a degree makes him a part of the estimated 15 percent of undocumented students who graduate each year from a university. 


In the future Carrera-Garcia is still under protection of DACA as he renewed his two-year application this past January. He hopes to be drafted to the MLS after he finishes his final college season.




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