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Source: Ronnie Hernandez, ronh@k-state.edu
Photo available. Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/may11/RonnieHernandez.jpg
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-2535, bbohn@k-state.edu

Thursday, May 19, 2011

EXTRAORDINARY EFFORT: AWARD RECOGNIZES STUDENT'S STRUGGLES TO KEEP FAMILY TOGETHER AFTER DAD'S DEPORTATION

MANHATTAN -- The fight for immigration reform is more than just a cause to Ronnie Hernandez. He hopes it will be his career.

A Kansas State University senior in pre-law from Manhattan, Hernandez was born in El Paso, Texas, and has seen firsthand the issues facing America's border with Mexico.

That's why Hernandez wants to become an immigration lawyer. His career choice was influenced by his personal life; he knows how deportation can leave a family struggling -- his own, to be exact.

Hernandez's efforts to keep his family together and assist them financially since his father was deported in 2007 has earned him an Extraordinary Student Award and Scholarship from K-State. The award and $500 scholarship are presented annually to students who have show great perseverance and success in their educational journey while overcoming obstacles.

Hernandez said his father faced criminal legal troubles on and off from 2001 to 2007, which ultimately led to his deportation to Mexico. It left Hernandez's mother and two sisters, living in El Paso, at the time, struggling financially. Hernandez wanted to help, even though he was at K-State.

"I asked them to come live with me in Manhattan so I could ease my mom's burden of being a single parent, provide small financial support and do anything else I could to help them," Hernandez said. "It took me awhile to convince my mom to make the move, as she didn't want me to get behind in my studies by taking on new family responsibilities. But I wanted to do this and have since worked diligently to help my family while pursuing my education at K-State."

It hasn't been easy for Hernandez. Along with his classes at K-State, he works part time to help his family. He said he's had health problems -- his heart and high blood pressure -- since he was in middle school because of the stress of coping with his father's legal troubles and keeping up with his schoolwork and leadership activities when he was at Great Bend High School, where he graduated in 2006.

"I always tried to keep my sisters busy and distracted from the issues our father was facing. I've tried hard to keep my family together since 2001 when all the issues started," he said. His sisters are now 17 and 12.

Hernandez was nominated for the Extraordinary Student Award by Mary Ewing, senior administrative assistant, and Karl Kandt assistant director, both at career and employment services. He met them working on a collaborative project between career and employment services and the K-State Criminology Club, of which Hernandez served as president this last school year.

"Upon learning about my past, Karl thought I was a strong candidate for the award," Hernandez said. "He and Mary talked to my friends and family to get statements of support for my nomination."

Under Hernandez's leadership, membership in the club has more than doubled, going from 15 in fall 2010 to 35 members this spring.

"I think my strongest accomplishments have been strengthening the club's leadership by adding a chief of staff and historian to the executive board; writing, from scratch, a constitution for the club; and bringing in several noteworthy speakers during the year who help gain the club positive publicity."

The speakers included the director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation -- a first for the club -- and the deputy secretary for facilities management of the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Hernandez will be the club's chief of staff next school year. He abstained from serving another term as president so he'll have more time to study and prepare for the Law School Admission Test, known as LSAT, before graduating from K-State in May 2012.

"My father's legal struggles did influence my decision to become a lawyer simply because it made me realize how important comprehensive immigration reform is," Hernandez said. "One thing I would like to work on as I build my career in this field is to find a way to make parents held accountable for child support when they are deported. I have a passion for this area of the law."