By Destiny Liddle
PUNTA GORDA — When Katiuska Carrillo answered what she thought would be a routine phone call two years, ago, she didn’t expect her father to be on the line. She was ecstatic to hear from him, as they had not spoken in approximately three months. But, she soon sensed something was off. He asked to speak with her mother
José Carrillo had been detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Jersey and would soon begin the process, of removal proceedings, and possible deportation.
Katiuska’s father had always been there for her growing up, but now the roles had changed and she needed to be there for him. Katiuska, usually referred to as ‘Kat,’ was born 18 years ago in New Jersey to two undocumented immigrants from Lima, Peru.
Growing up, Kat did not understand the danger of her parents’ decision to live undocumented in the United States, as well as the severity of its current political climate. Following her parents’ divorce, she and her mother moved to Florida in June of 2013, but she still kept in close contact with her father.
“My dad was someone I would go to, to talk about school, about boys, about whatever I was feeling,” said Kat, reflecting upon her high school years. “I would call him because we weren’t living together, and he was always there for me. He was always a good father.”
Kat’s father was being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility, and with help from his lawyer, Kat played a major role in keeping her father from possible deportation.
Despite her father’s criminal record and near deportation, Kat pushed through her high school career as an honors and advanced placement student, which, unbeknownst to Kat at the time, was one of the most prominent reasons her father was released from detention on the road to citizenship. Illegal immigrants are able to apply for the cancellation of their removal under section 240A(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
In cases such as these, one must be able to prove that “their removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to your United States citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or child, and you are deserving of a favorable exercise of discretion on your application.”
This is where Kat was able to be of assistance, and she sprang into action.
“I wrote letters to his lawyer, I sent transcripts, grades, accomplishments, and I was considered a ‘gifted’ student. I had shown the fact that he needed to be [in the United States] in order to support me,” she states.
After the long struggle of trying to keep her father in the country, Kat continued to excel in other areas of her life. Kat is now attending Florida SouthWestern State College on a scholarship and has received awards for her academic and artistic ability.
Over the time that Kat had spent at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, and at Florida SouthWestern, she has earned awards, invitations and scholarships for her intelligence, character, and artistic talent.
These include an academic letter, a $500 scholarship from the Rotary International Club, an Uncommon Friends scholarship totaling $2600, as well as their Eleanor Newton Student Chair in Humanities at FSW, 3rd place in the 2017 Charlotte County Art Fair, an invitation to study journalism in the New York Film Academy’s 2015 summer program, as well as an invitation to join the National Society of High School Honors.
Kat was also accepted into two different private schools, Queen of Peace High School and Mother Seton Regional High School in New Jersey. She was unable to attend either one because of her move to Florida.
In addition to her academic achievements, Kat is also very involved in art. Her passion for art has helped her find ways to escape the stress that she faces in her daily life.
Kat’s artwork was displayed at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center, and the Charlotte County Art Guild in Punta Gorda, Florida.
Carillo spends much of her time sketching in her notebook and painting extravagant pieces that are admired by many, especially her high school art teacher.
“Kat accepted responsibility when faced with difficult situations and challenged herself when creating projects. She was truly an asset to Charlotte High School’s Art Department,” says Renee Massolio, Kat’s former art teacher. “Kat always completed assignments on time and produced beautiful work. I truly enjoyed working and learning with her.”
Millions of immigrants take the risk of living in the United States to give their families and themselves a better quality of life, and the Carrillo family is no different.
Asked about her strong work ethic, Kat specifically acknowledged her parents’ role in all of her accomplishments.
“My sister and I work especially hard, because we know how much our parents have sacrificed for us,” Kat says. “We know that we have the privilege of not living in fear of deportation, and that we can accomplish things that our parents couldn’t.”
Kat is currently majoring in Mass Communications and seeking a career in media after graduating college. After she earns her associate degree from Florida SouthWestern, she plans on finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida. From there she’d like to earn her Master’s in Communications at the University of South Carolina.
The struggles that Kat has faced and still faces with her parents haven’t hindered her desire to thrive academically and personally, but rather fueled it. She feels that she has been given a rare opportunity that many others have missed out on, and wants to use it to its fullest potential.
“My mom and dad came here to provide for my sister and I and give us an opportunity and a chance to be better than the life that we would’ve had if they stayed in Peru,” Kat says. “That alone pushes us to go above and beyond what we believe we’re capable of.”