OGDEN -- Birthright shouldn't preclude a bright future. This is the sentiment of many who have helped put Isaac Jr., an illegal immigrant, on the path to lawful permanent residency in the hopes of gaining citizenship.
Surrounded by close friends and community supporters, Isaac Jr. sat with composure as 2nd District Juvenile Court Judge Michelle Heward ruled that under Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, (SIJS), he was eligible for long-term foster care and could begin the application process toward legal permanent residency.
"I need to know you can take care of yourself, and your education is how you will do that," said Heward. "I certainly wish you well."
Immigration status has split father and son. While the promise that life would be fuller upon moving to America has been extinguished for his father, Isaac Sr., his dreams have been passed down to the son.
"I didn't ask for any of this, but everyone has supported me in every situation," Isaac Jr. said. "I'm really, really grateful that I'm still here."
Isaac Jr. is currently in the custody of the state Division of Child and Family Services. Though he is an illegal immigrant, various state agencies determined that returning to Mexico was not in his best interest.
Along with the brutal societal conditions that Isaac Jr. recalls from his early years in Tijuana, reunification with either parent at this time is not viable.
"Safety and permanency are our two priorities. Living in a safe place and knowing you can legally and permanently call it 'home' is important for everyone," said Liz Sollis, public information officer for Utah Department of Human Services.
"Multiple studies have shown that stable homes, positive parent-child relations, and minimal disruptions to that which is the 'norm,' are best for children, youth, families and, ultimately, the community at large."
In April, the 2nd District Juvenile Court placed Isaac Jr. in the care of Archway Youth Service Center, a local facility for displaced youth, where he stayed for one month.
"We've had a lot of undocumented immigrants come in, but this was the first time that a collaboration of people worked toward their citizenship. That was unique," said Ken Kashiwaeda, director of Archway. "We've now begun putting together a procedure on people to call if this situation arises again."
Kashiwaeda said it was Isaac Jr.'s demeanor that made employees want to help him obtain his citizenship.
"The thing that set him, apart is that you could tell he was brought up right. He's very well-mannered and respectful," said Kashiwaeda. "Even if this didn't go through, he'd still be successful because of the type of kid he is."
In May, the court deemed Isaac Jr. eligible for foster care and he moved in with Mike McAuliffe in his Ogden Canyon home.
"I think this whole process will open the doors to the country for him (Isaac Jr.). All this kid wants to do is work his butt off," said McAuliffe. "He is welcome to stay with me as long as he wants. Hopefully, I'll be in his life forever."
McAuliffe is a long-time friend to both father and son, stemming from Foley's Mixed Martial Arts Training Center in Ogden where Isaac Jr. trains as an open-class USA boxer. Isaac Jr.'s conduct in the ring is not just a singular athletic endeavor but his life's philosophy, which is why so many people are in his corner now.
"I work with a lot kids that have been handed everything and they do absolutely nothing with it and only ask for more. And this kid came up from zero and he never asks for anything," McAuliffe said. "He truly deserves a chance.'
A celebrated fighter in the boxing community, he has the potential of going pro. But in order to advance to the Utah State Golden Gloves Tournament as an open class senior, he has to be a U.S. citizen.
"If I don't get my papers, then it's a no-go," Isaac Jr. said. "It's been intense. I'm trying to prepare for the Golden Gloves and I don't know if I'll get my citizenship."
Boxing gave Isaac Jr. the confidence that allows him to power after other dreams. So if a career in the ring doesn't work out, he plans to pursue automotive engineering. This fall, in conjunction with taking his senior-year course work at Ben Lomond High School, he will also attend Davis Applied Technology College in Kaysville.
"He (Isaac Sr.) put me into boxing because he thought it was my way out (towards citizenship)," Isaac Jr. said. "But now he tells me to do what I want. He says, 'If you can make it with engineering, then go for it.' "
Isaac Sr. agreed to voluntary deportation after it was discovered he was an illegal immigrant.
Isaac Jr. has been spared the difficulties his father continues to face back in Mexico. He doesn't have to live in a reality of poverty and violence. Knowing this, Isaac Jr. takes every opportunity to better his situation. He recently passed his driver's exam and has been working at various construction jobs to buy a car so he can transport himself to school and work. When he covers those costs, half of what he makes will be sent back to his father.
"I just go on with life and try to do what's right," Isaac said. "This is the best I've ever lived."
"He's considerate and thoughtful. I feel like I'm hanging out with any worldly adult I know," McAuliffe added.
Like his father, Isaac Jr. became accustomed to constantly looking over his shoulder. But as he has been given permission to apply for legal permanent residency, he no longer keeps his head down.
"The past is the past, you can't change it. But the present is a gift and you have to do what you have to do to survive," Isaac Jr. concluded.