Andrew Rice Conscience of the Senate Award
UCO's Andrew Rice Conscience of the Senate Award Rewards Students for Finding Their Voice
The Andrew Rice Conscience of the Senate Award was created with the help of Oklahoma Regent Richard Ogden. The award honors Rice's time as an Oklahoma Senator and nurtures the very qualities many loved and admired in
Rice - students who aren’t afraid to challenge leadership and stand up to ensure every American has a voice in our state and country.
This year's two recipients were no exception to Rice's legacy, with Elizabeth Larios Rodriguez working overtime to see her dad one day reunited with their family.
Rodriguez's parents Carlos and Elva Larios are Mexican immigrants who came to the United States legally with worker visas – Carlos at 16 and Elva at 20-years-old.
Originally from Los Angeles, Elizabeth Larios Rodriguez was born in 1992 as the youngest of five siblings. It was in 1996 that her oldest sister and brother became involved in gang activity. Carlos and Elva Larios knew something had to change.
"My parents refused to have that happen in the family and made a courageous decision to move us to a state they had heard was calm, had good school districts and nice people," wrote Rodriguez.
In 1997, Rodriguez's parents relocated the family to Oklahoma. A decision she said at the time all five children hated. She now sees that her parents were only doing what they had to do to ensure their children had a chance at a bright future.
Rodriguez's mother was fortunate to earn her citizenship in 1999. Her dad made the decision to leave his highest paying job ever in California, eventually landing a position as a truck driver.
Rodriguez remembers that time in her life with her father gone often. Though despite his busy schedule, he planned road trips and regular cookouts, working hard to ensure family time remained a priority for all of them.
It was the day her father attempted to renew his license at the Department of Motor Vehicles that their lives would change forever.
There he was informed his residency had expired. Rodriguez said her parents sat down and decided that it was best he leave the country now that he was undocumented.
"My parents believed in the system and thought if they went about the process correctly it was just a matter of time and he would be back," wrote Rodriguez.
In 2007, Carlos Larios self-deported back to Mexico.
He did not have the proper documentation needed to file a petition to return to the United States because he never knew his father and had no birth certificate. It took him a year to gather enough documentation to file.
The process took at total of five years and Larios was ultimately denied.
“A loving father of five, who has worked in this country, loved this country and built his life in this country, was denied entrance to his home,” wrote Rodriguez.
It was this outcome that spurred Rodriguez to action.
“I am absolutely blessed to have been born in this country and I have never had to deal with the struggles that come from not being documented,” wrote Rodriguez.
“But due to what I went through with my father, I fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.”
In Nov. 2013, Rodriguez was selected as one of only two DreamActOK leaders to go to Washington, DC and lead a group of 200 people in an Action for Immigration Reform.
Rodriguez led a small group in a protest at Speaker John Boehner’s home that ultimately resulted in five students being asked to come speak to the caucus. There she was able to speak on behalf of immigrants across the nation addressing what they wanted to happen, what they were willing to compromise and what they would continue to fight if they did not see change.
“That day, I spoke on behalf of people who couldn’t speak for themselves. I fought for people who have been fighting a losing battle for years. I made a step in the right direction for them,” wrote Rodriguez.
(Elizabeth Rodriguez (center) in 2007 with her parents Carlos and Elva Larios in Monterey, Mexico when Rodriguez was a junior in high school. This is the last time she has seen her father in person.)
(Rodriguez with her family in California before the move to Oklahoma.)