THE (Un)Documented College Student Experience

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Living in the Shadows

A shadow is inevitably cast upon the dreams of those who dream — undocumented students. Undocumented students continually dream of accomplishing greatness, but the eminence these students dream of is continually being limited by circumstances that are far beyond their control.

There’s an abundance of information available for the public to read regarding undocumented students dropping out of high school or applying to college every year. If you want to further inform yourself about these topics, I would suggest you visit these sites: e4fc.org and americanprogress.org. This blog post instead focuses on the struggles and barriers, some, if not all, undocumented students face while applying to college, and also the struggles faced while in college. Some of these hardships include: citizenship status, socioeconomic status, and  financial instability.

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Dreaming can be FATAL

Being an undocumented student in the United States is like being “cursed and blessed” at the same time. You are cursed in that you are marginalized by society, and you have to live in fear every day. You are blessed in that you use that experience, and you become a much better person because of everything that you have struggled with. You work ten times as hard as, maybe, somebody who doesn’t understand the power they were naturally granted by being born in this country.

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Education, is it WORTH the INVESTMENT?

As an undocumented student, it has always been hard to picture myself attending college, not because of lack of passion for my education and not because of lack of academic eligibility, but because of my family’s financial instability. Thinking about our financial situation made me question the idea of pursuing a college education, and whether it would be worth it to apply for college, or whether I should put my college dreams on hold in order to become a financial source to my family. However, analyzing my high school years, I came to realize that I have worked too hard to give up, especially when I have been able to overcome harder obstacles. The economic obstacle should not be a barrier that determines my future, and if I want to break the domino effect of no one from my family obtaining a post-secondary education, I must acknowledge that my college education is an investment for my future.

Thousands of determined undocumented college students, unlike their American-born or legalized peers, are burdened with the added pressures of finding ways to fund their educational endeavors, while facing a variety of social and educational challenges. Despite these challenges the students persevere and continue in their pursuit of a college education.

The following testimonial can help depict the reality that undocumented students face, while in college, as they fight to to keep their dream alive. As a sign of respect for their situation this person’s name will not be mentioned, but one can image that the face of many undocumented students can represent the following statement.

“I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to pay my college tuition. Although I receive financial aid through the Dream Act, I still had a decent amount of money to pay on my own, which lead to another obstacle: cancel my housing contract and commute from home. Canceling my housing contract and commuting from home caused me much stress and created a barrier when trying to perform well academically.”

Undocumented college students have a much higher level of anxiety than the population at large, likely caused by the unique set of challenges they face as a result of their legal status. The undocumented college student always lives in fear of not being able to pay for their education, and that is why they often have to attend to their academics while maintaining a job.

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The difficulties of traveling abroad for an undocumented student

Most people are able to travel as they please; that was not the case with me. The first time I was nominated to travel abroad through a summer program in high school, I had to let that opportunity fly away, not due to a lack of commitment, but because my legal status obligated me to surrender that opportunity. I remember feeling miserable and less of a person. I remember telling the coordinator that I wasn’t eligible. As I told her my circumstances I was trying hard not to cry. A year later the same opportunity came my way, but by then the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) had passed, and therefore this time I was able to take advantage of the opportunity. As I received the news that I got accepted into the program and would be traveling to Cambodia that summer, a bittersweet feeling arose over my body. The vice-principal said that I would have to talk to a lawyer and get an advance parole; to me this sounded as if they would be classifying me as a criminal. In spite this special permission from the U.S. government to travel abroad, I knew I was still running the risk of being detained and denied from going on the trip. Thankfully, I was able to board the plane. When I arrived in the country and the trip began, I was still in doubt the whole thing felt like a dream and a nightmare. Throughout the trip I kept thinking of what could happen once I returned to the United States. I could get detained and get deported back to my homeland, leaving behind my family and my education. As the trip came to an end, I had to face the nightmares that haunted me throughout the entire trip. I arrived at the San Francisco airport and was separated from the rest of the students who traveled with me.  The officer seated me in the waiting room while they attentively examined my documents. I was interrogated for over an hour, making me feel as if I were some sort of alien, without any adults to help me understand what was going on. I felt pressured, frustrated, scared, and angry all at the same time. Fortunately, I was dismissed. With relief and happiness, I looked forward to sharing my experience with my family.

Yes, the process to obtain permission to travel abroad as an undocumented student, is expensive, time consuming, and most of all a frightening experience. Nevertheless, I would like to travel abroad to Mexico and learn about the rich culture of the nation that saw me come to life, while also helping out my people understand the importance of education. Traveling abroad grants the opportunity for undocumented students to broaden their perspective of the world, while helping construct a place where everyone has the ability to dream and accomplish those dreams.  

Undocumented students, like myself, all over the nation are pursuing higher education. And although the experience, for an undocumented student in college, will be harder to handle, the struggle is worth it. We are helping empower a group of people. We are helping others start to believe, once again, that we all have a dream.

NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL, AND EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS A DREAM
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