Karla Michelle Vargas made a promise to her mother. “I told her, ‘one day you’re not going to work like that, one day you’re going to stop working two jobs,’” said Vargas. This is a big promise, but one Vargas plans to fulfill.
The 22 year-old graduates in August with a degree in law and policy. “Graduating means I can give my mom peace of mind that she won’t have to worry about us all the time,” said Vargas. To understand Vargas’s commitment to her mother you must go back 20 years.
Vargas was two years old at the time. Her father worked as an emergency medical technician and her mother went to school for fashion design. The family, which included an older brother, lived in Veracruz, Mexico. “Over there you could work from sun up to sun down and only get paid ten dollars for the day,” said Vargas. “My parents decided they didn’t want that for their children.”
Vargas’ mother left school and left Mexico for the United States. Vargas’ father stayed behind (the couple later divorced). “My mom worked every kind of job from McDonald’s to housekeeping to selling flowers on the corner,” said Vargas. “She was always willing to work, even if that meant she’d only sleep a couple hours a night.”
The family relocated to California temporarily before settling in Auburn. Vargas’s aunt eventually came to the U.S. and helped care for her and her siblings. At the time Vargas and the rest of her family were undocumented. “I didn’t know about my situation until very recently,” said Vargas. “My mom didn’t want me to be afraid and she didn’t want my status to limit me.”
Vargas applied for and was accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “Right now I’m a Dreamer, so I only have certain protections,” she said. “I can’t do most of things a U.S. citizen can; I can’t vote, I can’t fill out a FAFSA and I can’t work for the federal government.” The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the starting point for almost all college financial aid in the U.S. In Washington, those who can't apply for aid with the FAFSA can use the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA).
The uncertainty didn’t stop Vargas, in fact, one could argue that it motivated her. Vargas attended Green River College after high school. From there she transferred to UW Tacoma. She has a very specific career in mind. “I want to be a prosecutor,” she said. “I want to have that discretion to file a case based on whether someone stole from a grocery store because they didn’t have the money to feed their kids. Instead of saying, ‘you’re going to jail’ I want to say, “you’re getting treatment.’”
While on campus Vargas volunteered with the Pre-Law Society. The student organization recently organized a multi-day immigration conference that included a free legal clinic and panel discussion with Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez and state senator Claire Wilson. “We felt that as a group if we wanted to help the undocumented community then we had to set an example,” said Vargas.
As of this writing, Vargas is currently serving as an intern with the King County Prosecutor’s Office. “I do the usual office work but I also get to file evidence, answer requests for discovery and observe trials,” said Vargas. “They have really been supportive of my career.” [Update: Vargas just accepted a full-time job with the Prosecutor's Office as a Legal Administrator Specialist.]
Karla Michelle Vargas made a promise to her mother — and also to her daughter. Vargas has a four year-old girl. “It’s hard because I feel like I let her down because I’m too busy working on assignments or studying and am not able to dedicate that time to her,” said Vargas. “I hope one day she’ll be proud of me and know I’m doing this go give her a better tomorrow.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com