Nineteen-year-old Minaldy Cadet was seemingly the prototypical American success story. His family immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 2; over the next 16 years, he excelled in school and earned entrance to Boston College. All the while, his parents worked as hard as they could to give him the kind of life he never could have had in Haiti. But when it came time to leave his adopted hometown of Fort Lauderdale for college late last summer, it turned out that his immigration paperwork hadn’t been submitted properly when he was a toddler. Now, his financial aid package was off the table and his college future in doubt — just days from the start of his first semester. In this week of heartbreak, he’s the latest in our Near Miss series, where we hear from three men who came thisclose to accomplishing their dreams only to fall agonizingly short, but still somehow lived to tell the tale.
When we were at the immigration office and found out the paperwork wasn’t right, my parents and I were crying our eyes out. It was the worst news we’d ever received. The immigration judge decided to call Boston College to ask if there was anything we could do. Initially, BC said they could override everything if I had a lot of letters of recommendation. So as soon as I left the immigration office, I started asking everyone I knew — from my teachers to my guidance counselors to my priest — to write me one. It wasn’t clear what the letter needed to say, but I asked them to write one about me overall as a person and why this would be super-detrimental to my future life.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
From what I understand, my parents decided to pay someone who claimed to be an immigration lawyer, but who really wasn’t. He ended up filling out the wrong paperwork. I’m not sure if it was intentional or accidental. But that’s why we never got green cards.
Without a green card, I couldn’t establish that I was a full resident, get federal aid or receive scholarships from the schools that had accepted me.
Ultimately, my parents decided to take a leap of faith and pay for one semester themselves. My dad took out a couple of bank loans to cover the costs. His hope was that it would buy us enough time to figure something else out.
Just before my dad decided to take out the loans, I blindly wrote to the Miami Herald. I told them my whole story — from Day One to present time. Then I outlined my future aspirations — that I wanted to become an immigration lawyer to help kids going through the same thing I was. They weren’t the only ones I wrote to either. I sent letters to pretty much all the news stations in Florida, hoping one would be interested.
I didn’t want to admit defeat; I wanted to keep pushing.
Fortunately, the Miami Herald got back to me within a week or two and said, “Yes, we want to do a story on you.”
The school paper also decided to profile me. Pretty quickly, everyone on campus knew who I was. It felt kind of weird. Everyone was supportive — one of my roommates even decided to start a GoFundMe page for me — but it was a different atmosphere than I’m used to. Obviously, if I had a say in the situation, I’d prefer going to college as a normal student and try to make an impression on being me alone.
Throughout the fall semester, I never felt like a “normal student.” But I tried not to let it weigh on my mind too much or affect my studies. It was definitely there, though, hanging over my shoulder.
There was a huge possibility that I wouldn’t be able to return for spring semester, which I tried not to think about as much as possible. My mindset was: I’m here. I’m trying to make the best of it. And I’m looking toward the future with hope.
Listening to music helped a lot, too. Especially Kid Cudi.
After the Miami Herald article, Senator Marco Rubio called my dad and talked to him a couple of times. He also called me once, and I talked to him personally. It was nerve-racking because I knew I was going to receive a call from him so I was waiting for my phone to ring the whole day. He has a very calming voice. And he could relate — in terms of him having parents who immigrated from Cuba.
He told me that he was going to try to fix my situation and that he was working on a plan so that I may be able to graduate in four years. It helped, too, that he’s good friends with one of BC’s trustees.
I also have an immigration lawyer who graduated from BC that’s helping me day-in, day-out. He and the other lawyers working on my case see it not only as a school issue but as an immigration issue as well. Later on I may need my green card for graduate school, which I’m planning on attending, so they’re helping me in both aspects.
I’m not yet in the clear for the next four years, however — only for the rest of my freshman year.
All of this has inspired my career track. I’m still a pre-med student — and there’s nothing wrong with pre-med. It’s just that the immigration lawyers who are helping me have inspired me to want to do the same for other people. I know there’s a huge population of kids in my shoes who probably aren’t as fortunate as I’ve been. Those are the people I want to help.
Right now, I’m working at the law library and taking some law courses just to feel it out. But so far, so good.
That’s why I can’t see my situation as a complete negative. It was a huge setback, but hopefully with the best of luck and the best intentions of everyone involved, I can get through it. I’m certainly not going to give up. Instead, I’m going to keep looking for another door.
—As told to Josh Schollmeyer