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Undocumented Students in the U.S. Education System

Undocumented Students in the U.S. Education System




Our great country, the United States of America has stood as a symbol of hope to foreign people for over two hundred years. America’s heart inspires every man, woman, and child to dream for a little more. It contains the very birthplace and foundation from whence this country rose, and it has been a reminder to people all across the world that hard work, coupled with a deep desire, and strong belief in oneself, anything can be made possible. In the news recently there has been a big debate over the rights and privileges undocumented foreigners have who live in the U.S. Most of this stems from the mass surge in the number of Latinos crossing the border from Mexico in the last ten years. Since 1990 there has been rapid growth in the number of immigrants living in the U.S., according to research done by Pew Research Center. In 2014 a reported 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the U.S. without legal status. In an article published on July 24, 2015 titled, “5 Facts about Illegal Immigration in the U.S.,” author Jens Manuel Krogstad and Jeffrey S. Passel wrote, “Mexicans make up about half of all unauthorized immigrants (52%), though their numbers are declining in recent years.” So needless to say we are talking about a large amount of people, largely concentrated in six different states. “6 States which alone account for 60% of unauthorized immigrants. California, Texas, Florida, NY, NJ, and Illinois.” (Jens Krogstad and Jeffrey Passel, para 6). Today more than ever many young people are seeking to better their lives by gaining an education at colleges and universities. Shasta College is a very important stop for many young people; a person having an undocumented status could make going to college a struggle with insurmountable odds if not impossible. Many trials and hardships are forced upon those with an undocumented status. The difficulty of navigating the college experience, not to mention the resources and tools necessary to be successful is without a doubt a deep concern for undocumented students. After seeing some of the less obvious hurdles for undocumented students to jump, what about the more ominous obstacles, such as paying for the education? Well, that’s where the gap lies. Most, if not all, would agree that this is a law which actually makes perfect sense. But, what about non-U.S. citizens who want to obtain citizenship in order to escape the living conditions they suffered through before they fled Mexico? These are goals which first take money to begin, and with the economy and bleak job market in Mexico, crossing over to the U.S. in this manner is simply not an option. With this thought in mind, I looked for answers to complex questions which had to be asked. Asking loaded questions which are necessary to people who wish to have their identity remain anonymous and for good reason, takes some research and a little finesse. In order to obtain a better understanding of the situation Latino immigrants are faced with, a person has to look for answers from firsthand accounts of people who are enduring these situations. A month ago, I was asked to attend a DREAM’ers (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) conference, at Chico State, on undocumented students in California’s education system. Needless to say I was a little excited at the opportunity to get some great information and resources in order to grasp this topic from all angles.  My hope was, by having my knowledge expanded I might better understand and gain some excellent first-hand information on what it’s like to live with this crisis of identity as I assumed Latinos felt about the subject. After sitting down with two students for phone interviews, one from Chico State and another from Shasta College, I finally had my chance to discover the identity and heart of these proud men and women. During the first interview with a student and a proud member of L.E.A.D (Leaders Educating for the Advancement of Dreamers) named Karen, I was able to peer into the mind of one California State Universities’ most promising students. Karen was a very charismatic and intelligent young woman who displayed great courage and sobering honesty during the duration of the interview. During another interview I conducted I had the privilege of an undocumented student sharing what it’s like to live with the feeling of isolation and hopelessness in the face of such adversity. Now despite my use of words to structure this sentence, what I’ve just described to you are two separate occasions in which I interviewed someone. I’m not referring to two different people, I’m referring to two seemingly separate identities but of which inhabit a single person— A person who loves this country as much as any pure blood American ever did, and very well ever could. In a short time I was able to quickly reach out and ask as any curious stranger would, what do people need to know about your life, about your world, and what can I do to get your approval so that I might bring that message to my fellow students back home? Most of these proud Latino students opened up with blissful divulgence. Others spoke with mild trepidation, and still others were keen on making sure their presence and identity remained strictly anonymous. For the sake of making this article crisp and concise I went onto gather a series of brief but, powerful statements. The first question I wanted to know was what are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced going to school and not having a documented status, and what challenges have you had to overcome because of it? Karen stated:


The process of applying to college is a big struggle, most people including counselors and teachers don’t have adequate advice for undocumented students, when few people are educated, [people who are in positions of influence] about options and resources available, who can help? A documented U.S. citizen from a low income family attending college is on average granted $20,000 per year to pay for the cost of attending college, and an undocumented student from a low income family may receive less than $8,000 per year (Karen Cruz, Live Interview).

A mere fraction of the full Federal aid allotted to full citizens. Karen, who came to the U.S. at the age of two, has lived in the U.S. since. She went on further to state:

I want people to understand we are regular people, we are not criminals, the media uses the word ‘immigrant’ which has been given a negative connotation [to describe Latinos]. I want people to understand myself and others love this country as much as they do. I pay taxes on my income I receive through my job. I’m not here trying to take someone else’s job. I’m here to receive a higher education to make something of myself and contribute to the U.S. and society.

Karen was by no means ambiguous with her words. She meant what she said, and she spoke exactly as she felt. Another student from our very own campus at Shasta College, who instead chose to remain anonymous stated, “Rarely will you find such a diverse people so willing to struggle through the balancing act of retaining their cultural heritage while simultaneously holding onto an identity which invariably makes them American.” (Anonymous, Live Interview) With the pace that changes appear to be taking place each and every day in our country, what could be more necessary then to have our next generation of Americans being made up in part of a grass roots Latino American culture? A culture that knows as well as anyone, that in order to keep this country great, you first have to know what it’s worth? To each and every member who calls America their home, let them hear these words. If you can offer a person a stake in this world, if you can promise them anything worth having at all; a home, a dream, a family, the start to a new life, what you’re ultimately giving them is much more. What you’re giving them is hope, and what people who have hope will give in return, is infinitely greater than what you paid for it. To our next generation of Latino Americans who make up a portion of this great nations’ future legacy. America will be built and increased by those who understand it, down to their very core. Understand the gravity and importance of getting here and fighting for what makes their identity their own. To the young men and women who revealed to me the fullness of their lives, I have them to ultimately thank for their courage and heroism to pursue the American dream. If it were not for the bright, tenacious, and driven Latino students on campuses across America, would the American dream still live on?  The same dream which occupies the students who walk our very own halls at Shasta College, and occupy the desks and seats on either sides of us in our class rooms. So few might actually know and realize that some of us have to pay a huge cost in order to secure a place to sit amongst us as our peers. My advice is to listen to them, and hear what they have to say, maybe by doing that you will also discover something great about yourself. You will discover something great about your campus, its students, and our dreams. At the end of the day we can only look to ourselves as the cause for why we are separated from each other by an ocean of indifference. Much is revealed to us by the Latino community who has stood up and refused to not have their voices heard. As time progresses on this subject I encourage any student reader who finds this article intriguing to go out and discover your neighbor. You never know what can be learned and gained by choosing to share in your brothers and sisters struggle to dream.

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