Higher Education and Undocumented Youth

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Robert* was born in Michoacan, Mexico. He was brought into the United States at the young age of 5. He came into this country not knowing the language the culture, or the new experiences he’d endure, but he quickly adjusted by learning English and excelling in school.

Robert is an undocumented immigrant. Despite spending the majority of his life in this country, he didn’t receive the same services as those born here—a story far too common. He was stuck between choosing financial stability or chasing his dreams of pursuing higher education. After high school, Robert did not have many options when it came to his education. He was admitted to prestigious universities such as UCLA and Berkley but was unable to attend due to not receiving financial assistance for school. Like many in similar situations, he settled for attending community college; an experience he recalls as “pivotal” in the success he’s continued to achieve.

Imagine living in a country your entire life but not being able to have the same access to the resources provided to the peers by whom you are surrounded. The place he had called home for the past two decades did not provide him with much help to achieve his dreams. As a contributing member of society who paid taxes, he was still unable to receive help to pay for his education. This meant he would be paying astronomical fees to get an education due to being labeled an out-of-state resident.

Policies like the California DREAM Act and DACA have provided a steadier pathway for undocumented youth to pursue their educational and professional endeavors.

Youth have been able to receive work permits, driver’s license, and access to financial aid. Students, who felt like college was out of reach because they could not afford it, are now able to chase their dreams.

These two policies have set significant victories for youth, but more can be done. Especially in other states across the country where the benefits like driver’s licenses, tuition aide, and in-state tuition are not provided.

Robert graduated college but now wishes to pursue a graduate degree. Despite having these policies in play at the state level, more can be done at the federal level. Robert is unable to qualify for federal loans to aid in paying for a graduate degree. There are undocumented youth who have finished and are pursuing graduate degrees, however the lack of resources available creates a restriction of the number of those who can do the same.

As the cost of higher education continues to soar, undocumented students continue to face challenges paying their tuition, particularly without access to federal loans. These stressors have proved to cause high levels of anxiety and depression amongst undocumented youth. It isn’t that they don’t want to receive an education; it’s more of the fact that an equal education is being denied to them.

Congress should pass immigration reform legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth and that includes progressive education provisions, including access to all federal education benefits. In the mean time, Congress and the President should also stop the deportation and separation of families that further contribute to the mental health conditions of undocumented youth.
Immigration is a human rights issue. The blame cannot be placed on these young individuals if we aren’t taking the time to understand and educate ourselves on how being undocumented affects the day-to-day lives of these youth.
I am not undocumented, nor will I ever fully understand the struggles these communities face, but I am a voting member of this country who demands the same benefits afforded to me, be afforded to this community that are a far cry from the depiction Donald Trump paints.

If you ever got the chance to meet Robert, you’d come to see that he is an individual who has been giving back to the country that turned its back on him when he needed it most. He’s human. With the same faults and virtues that all of us have who cares deeply for the well-being of all people.
*Robert is a pseudonym. Individual asked that his real name not be used

Anaheim resident, Jankee Pandya is receiving her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Southern California.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Engagement Editor Julie Gallego at jgallego@voiceofoc.org.