Four years after his 2008 appointment, Andy returned to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
They reviewed his case, gave him his immigrant visa and a few weeks later his permanent residency arrived in the mail.
He came back to the United States on July 4th, 2012.
Here’s how he, his sister and his mom remember that day:
“...I just felt like hey I finally belong here, in a sense, I could celebrate July 4th because I'm legally here now.”
The very next month, Andy returned to school.
Before he left for Mexico, Andy had earned an associates degree in liberal arts.
He says he had stuck to a broad major in part because of his status. He felt unmotivated in school because he knew that even if he finished, he wouldn’t be able to work in his chosen field of study.
While in Mexico, he met several engineers and got interested in that line of work. Upon his return to the country, he went back to Fresno City College to take the prerequisite courses for an engineering degree.
He later transferred to Fresno State to study civil engineering.
"I got back and I realized now I have everything..."
While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, Andy took a timber design class with Professor Kimberly Stillmaker. She remembers him standing out right away as a curious and invested student.
Beyond his inquisitive spirit, Stillmaker noticed that he was the type of student who put her at ease, especially as a first-time professor.
“If I had to pause and collect my thoughts,” she says, “he would be vocal about saying something like, ‘It's okay, take your time. We're all here to support you.’”
She was curious about how he had developed that sense about him. She discovered he had taught in Mexico and wanted to learn more. It was then that Andy ended up telling her his whole story.
She remembers asking him why he didn’t try to come back illegally, given that he had lived in the United States undocumented for most of his life. He responded that he wanted to do it right, that it had been hard for him to grow up without residency and it was important for him to do what they asked.
“In that moment, I remember having so much respect for him, that it was really quite amazing that despite his situation and the apparent inequity of it all that he was willing to go through that in order to have a better life in the end.”
- Professor Kimberly Stillmaker
During his senior year of his undergraduate education, Stillmaker encouraged Andy to pursue graduate school. But Andy was hesitant. She came to realize that he was worried about the financial burden of attending school. So, she encouraged him to apply for a scholarship. He ended up being one of the four students selected from the civil engineering program for a full-ride scholarship to the master’s program.
Today, Andy is in his second semester at Fresno State, studying to become a structural engineer.
For Stillmaker, meeting Andy has had a profound impact on the way she views immigration:
“I've always kind of been the type of person who feels like we have laws and they need to be followed and that's part of what makes America orderly...I feel like before it was very easy to have those types of opinions before I knew someone who was personally affected by them.”
- Professor Kimberly Stillmaker
As for Andy, he says the experience of growing up undocumented put him at a disadvantage in a lot of ways.
But at the same time, it shaped him into the person he is today.
Being in Mexico in particular, he says, taught him not to take opportunities for granted.
“At the time that it was happening it was not necessarily a good thing I guess. But as I see it now, I think it was a good thing because it helped me.”