SF State faculty members and community activists swam from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park Sept. 13 to raise awareness and funds for Continue the Dream scholarships for AB 540 students.
The “Swim for Sueños” fundraiser draws awareness about undocumented and AB 540 students. It also serves as a way to fund the Continue the Dream scholarship, which awards five students with a $500 scholarship.
The idea was conceived when SF State clinical counselor Karla Castillo and Nancy Jodaitis went swimming in Aquatic Park to train for the Alcatraz Invitational Swim last year. They decided they would use the mile-and-a-half swim as a fundraiser, Castillo said.
Community activists Jose Carrasco, Marcos Tapia and Lisa Castellanos were part of the seven members who participated in the swim for AB 540 students.
“This is our second year swimming,” Castillo said. “There are so many struggles and needs for AB 540 and undocumented students and we didn’t know where to start.”
“My experience in the water was second to childbirth,” said Lisa Castellanos, a community organizer for Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose, who said it was her first time swimming in the invitational. “It was all mentally and emotionally challenging, but I would do it again to raise awareness for the Dreamers.”
AB 540 students are undocumented students who are exempt from paying out-of-state tuition fees unlike non-AB-540 undocumented students, according to the AB 540 website.
Many undocumented students struggle to afford college, especially because the majority of scholarships require a social security number or proof of citizenship, SF State AB 540 website said.
“You don’t know how it feels to see that only AB 540 students can apply (to the Continue the Dream Scholarship), when it says no citizens or permanent residents,” said 26-year-old business marketing major Jessica Iñiguez, an AB 540 student who came to the U.S. from Mexico at 2 years old. “My whole college experience – my whole life – I’ve seen that I must be a citizen; I must have a visa. (If you are an undocumented student), you’d be lucky if you can apply to five scholarships.”
Many undocumented students receive funding through the California Dream Act, which provides grants for students depending on their taxes, but these students still are not eligible for federal financial aid to cover the remaining cost of college, according to the Dream Act website.
Securing a well paying job to afford college is a problem many undocumented students face, according to Janet Lopez-Galindo, a 20-year-old political science major who came to the U.S. from Mexico City when she was 10 months old.
“When someone is undocumented, you don’t have the ability to work and if you do, you don’t have a choice to do it in a way that is legal and the jobs that you can get aren’t good paying jobs,” Lopez-Galindo said.
Castillo started a Go Fund Me account that has currently raised more than $2,300 for the Continue the Dream scholarship.
The scholarship is also funded by SF State faculty, who volunteer to have a payroll deduction that donates a portion of their monthly check to fund the scholarships, according to Castillo.
In addition to these efforts, students and faculty members are pushing to create an AB 540 and undocumented student resource center.
“Undocumented people and students are the most financially and academically vulnerable because there is a different process,” Lopez-Galindo said. “It’s really important to have a center to go and ask questions. When you’re new, you don’t know who is knowledgeable of your situation.”
The main concern for most AB 540 students is to increase faculty and staff awareness of the needs and struggles of undocumented students.
“Each student has a different need,” said Miguel Castillo, third-year industrial design and visual communication major. “I want to study abroad while I’m in my youth, but no one can help me because they don’t know how I would be processed. Will I be an international student or will I get funding? Nobody knows.”
Miguel Castillo said he has recieved some information from University of California, Berkeley about the opportunities and resources available to him as an AB 540 student.
A resource center for undocumented students is included in President Leslie E. Wong’s 2015 strategic plan as a goal for SF State.
“(Building a center) would send a strong message that the University supports and cares (about AB 540 students),” said Eurania Lopez, a lecturer from the graduate College of Education.
The faculty’s eagerness to swim in ice-cold water and secure funds for students is appreciated, Iñiguez said.
“To see that there is a scholarship for students like us is really refreshing and encouraging,” Iñiguez said.