Drive-by victim Karina Vargas is talking the walk

Drive-by victim Karina Vargas is talking the walk
Anthony Camera

From where Karina Sartiaguin Vargas is sitting, at a scenic overlook near the entrance of the expansive Bluff Lake Nature Center in northeast Denver, she can see the dirt path that she used to run every night before dinner. It's a warm day in November, and the nineteen-year-old is wearing a green skirt that stops above her knees, a yellow tank top, a fitted hoodie and sparkly black flats with no socks. Her long, dark hair is piled on top of her head in a tight bun, hiding the bleached streaks that match the stripe she dyed in her brother Danny's hair the day before. The sky is a nearly cloudless blue, and even though much of the vegetation is brown, the view is impressive.

See also: Karina Vargas: How to donate to a fund set up for teenager paralyzed in drive-by shooting

Karina points her cell phone west at the peaks of the far-off mountains and takes a photo. Danny, who's just a year older, does the same. In the opposite direction, the siblings can see the top of the University of Colorado Hospital out in Aurora, where Karina and her family were told that she'd probably never run again.

Karina is supported by her family, including her mother, Mina (left), her older brother, Danny, and her little sister, Eli.
Anthony Camera
Karina is supported by her family, including her mother, Mina (left), her older brother, Danny, and her little sister, Eli.
Immigration attorney Joy Athanasiou has been working with Karina and her family pro bono.
Anthony Camera
Immigration attorney Joy Athanasiou has been working with Karina and her family pro bono.

Neither of them takes a photo of that.

In December 2010, Karina was shot outside Aurora Central High School. The bullet wasn't intended for her, but it hit her anyway, lodging in her back near her spinal cord and robbing her of the ability to walk. Because Karina was an undocumented immigrant, having crossed the border with her family when she was a baby, she had trouble getting medical care beyond what was necessary to save her life.

Charity programs have since helped fill in the gaps, but what Karina needs most is ongoing home health care and physical therapy, both of which are easier to come by if you're a U.S. citizen. Because she was the victim of an attempted murder, Karina was able to qualify for a special visa, called a U visa, that allows her to live in the United States. But the visa is temporary, and she's now working toward becoming a legal permanent resident, a status that may increase her access to health benefits. She hopes.

She is convinced that with the right treatment, she'll be able to walk again.

As Danny pushes Karina's wheelchair toward the nature center parking lot, a woman in turquoise running shorts and neon-pink sneakers huffs past them, her eyes focused on the path. "There would be Karina, running right next to her," Danny says.

"Yeah," Karina says in that teenage way that often means yeah, right. But when she says it, she smiles, and the dimples in her cheeks deepen. Even though she's struggled to complete high school since the shooting, even though most of her friends have moved on, and even though she sometimes gets depressed about her situation, Karina rarely shows it. She keeps her battle scars hidden and her chin up. The face she shows to the outside world is one of a courageous, beautiful, self-assured young woman.

"My life has changed," she often says, the tone of her voice more matter-of-fact than pity-me. "But you have to make the best of it, because you're still alive."

**********

Karina's family is from the small Mexican state of Nayarit, a coastal area in the western part of the country, just north of Puerto Vallarta. Her father, Benito, first came to the United States in 1981 in search of a job. Her mother, Mina, followed fourteen years later with the couple's three children: nine-year-old Maria, two-year-old Danny, and Karina, who was just shy of a year old. They would have another daughter, Eli, in the U.S.

Mina says she brought the children here to learn English. Nayarit is a tourist destination, and it's easier to get a job in the resorts if you speak English, she explains. Her plan was to stay just long enough for the kids to pick up the language and then return to Mexico, as her husband often did. But once the children started school, Mina decided that it'd be unfair to take them away from the educational opportunities they were getting in the U.S. With that decision, Karina's family joined the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the United States today.

Her father, however, was not undocumented. In 1986, he was among the nearly three million immigrants granted temporary legal status thanks to a bill passed by President Ronald Reagan and Congress that aimed to stop illegal immigration. Later, Karina's father got his green card, which granted him permanent residency but not citizenship. His residency didn't immediately extend to his family, however, and cases such as theirs can take decades to resolve. At the time Karina was shot, their case was still pending.

As an undocumented kid, Karina grew up in the shadows. But she doesn't remember it being much of a problem. Her family owned their home, a small ranch house in north Aurora whose walls are decorated with family photos and religious paintings. At school, nobody made a big deal out of the fact that she didn't have papers.

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11 comments
mellyfrench_4
mellyfrench_4

Yall need to shut the fuck up illegal or not a persons life is way more important than what government made it out...you think in heaven GOD would deny someone cuz they dont have a piece of paper...SMH ..ive known Karina since we were little and shes a good person weather she gots papers or not they deserve to be treated the same period...dumb fucks!

apple_sauce11
apple_sauce11

Who paid for this uninsured illegals medical bills?  Just asking.

nwerle
nwerle

such a pretty and courageous girl!

whosdp
whosdp

Illegal alien = Shouldn't have been here in the first place!  Only in a ''sanctuary city'' would her status as an illegal alien be obscured by a term such as ''undocumented.''

Kevin A. Mahmalji
Kevin A. Mahmalji

"Talking the walk", bad choice of words when referring to a paralyzed shooting victim.

David Capell
David Capell

kudos to both mr. lower and ms. athanasiou

chuchux6
chuchux6

@apple_sauce11What's wrong with you? She was brought to the country as a baby. She might as well be a citizen considering she's lived here her entire life? What about political refugees or asylum seekers?

ColoradoShu
ColoradoShu

@whosdp each day that goes by without mandatory sterilization of commentators like this furthers the devolution of our species. It's not only tiring to read 'n hear derogatory comments about Latinos in places named by their Latino ancestors ("Colorado" , "Texas" and "Arizona") but disturbing considering the subject matter of this journalism piece. 

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

That, and It seems to me the author means "walking the walk," as in "She talks the talk, but she doesn't walk the walk."

whosdp
whosdp

@ColoradoShu  Each day that goes by with illegal aliens being termed ''undocumented'' furthers the likelihood that more illegal border crossers will come, which furthers the devolution of American life.

It's not only tiring to read and hear illegals being characterized as victims by their apologists but disturbing, considering that the US is broke.

 
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