Miss Seafair Contestant Defies the Norm


Image Courtesy of Miss Hispanic Seafair 2013

After achieving the title of Miss Hispanic Seafair, Tania Santiago becomes the first non-U.S. citizen to ever compete in Seattle’s larger Miss Seafair pageant.

The 21-year-old University of Washington student was crowned Miss Hispanic Seafair in mid-May, thereby qualifying her to compete against the winners of other local pageants for the greater title of Miss Seafair.

However, the Miss Seafair pageant requires that each participant be at least 18 years old, be enrolled in a post-secondary school, and be a U.S. citizen.

For Santiago, this last requirement is a problem.

She was born in Mexico but has been living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant since the age of four.

Santiago has received employment authorization as well as protection from deportation through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was launched in June 2012 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Through this program, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who meet other specific guidelines are able to apply for deferred action in renewable two-year periods.

According to the DHS website, this program will allow DHS to focus its efforts on deporting those individuals who “pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety, including individuals convicted of crimes with particular emphasis on violent criminals, felons and repeat offenders.”

Santiago is just one of 497,960 immigrants who have gained DACA status since the program was launched last June, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ records. An average of 2,813 immigrants per day apply for DACA status.

These numbers are proof that the face of immigration in our country is quickly changing. Throughout his presidency, President Obama has been pressing Congress to reform immigration laws. After his recent reelection, he used his executive power to create the DACA program.

As DHS has stated, “Over the past three years, this Administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to transform the immigration enforcement system into one that focuses on public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system.”

This transformation reflects the changing public opinion toward immigration. Many have noted that the U.S. is becoming more sympathetic toward those undocumented citizens who are hard working and productive members of society.

“Today, the vast majority of Americans support some form of legalization for unauthorized immigrants. While the details of that process may vary, polls show that the public wants a system put in place that permits legal status and ultimately citizenship, if the immigrant establishes commitment to the United States,” writes Mary Giovagnoli in an article for the American Immigration Council.

Santiago’s participation in the Miss Seafair pageant is just one example of the public support that many undocumented immigrants are receiving. In fact, there was no notable resistance to Santiago’s fight to change the pageant’s citizenship policy.

“Everybody has been in favor. The big thing about Seafair is that it’s all-inclusive. It’s a celebration for everybody that lives in our city. We want to include everybody,” said Melissa Jurcan, the director of sales and marketing for Seafair.

Santiago had argued that since Seafair strives for diversity, allowing an undocumented immigrant to compete would show support for minority communities.

“It’s good to get the word out that there are all these people who have been here since they were young kids; they didn’t sneak in, they were brought here by their parents. They’ve been working hard in school, they’ve been getting degrees, they’re trying to go to college, they’re trying to be productive members of society, and for all intents and purposes they are U.S. citizens,” said Kristin Kyrka, a private immigration attorney in Seattle.

Santiago is currently a senior studying sociology and education at UW, and she plans to attend law school once she graduates.

As the winner of Miss Hispanic Seafair, Santiago has received $5,000 in scholarships and will represent the Hispanic community at various events throughout Washington. She also has the potential to win $20,000 in scholarships if she is crowned Miss Seafair.

“I do think people are becoming more open to the idea that there are a lot of people here who really are following all the rules, except for having entered without status, who are really trying to do the right thing, who are trying to make better lives for themselves, who really are contributing to our country,” Kyrka said.

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