Undocumented students struggling to keep the dream alive

Three SF State students came to the U.S. as children and all benefit from state and federal programs such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the California Dream Act as well as state law AB 540. Each student, like many other immigrants, has their own way of dealing with past and recent immigration issues they are facing.

Luis Quiroz, 27, is a senior studying business and marketing. Quiroz was came to the country without a visa and was only 6 months old.

“I literally had no control,” said Quiroz. “My aunt, who’s white American, went to Mexico, picked me up and brought me in as her own baby in a car seat.”

Quiroz has had trouble applying for citizenship because he entered the U.S. illegally.   

“Believe me, if I could’ve come in with a visa — I would have,” said Quiroz.

Quiroz applied for AB 540, which allows non-resident students who attended a California high school and received a diploma to pay resident tuition fees.

Prior to AB 540’s passing, undocumented students were faced with expensive nonresident fees, which deterred many from seeking higher education.

Although AB 540 made an education possible for Quiroz, it didn’t didn’t help him obtain a work permit and he was forced to work under the table before the DACA executive order was signed into law.

In 2012, the year the Obama administration signed the DACA order, Quiroz paid the $465 fee and enrolled in the federal program that protects him from deportation, and allows him to apply for a two-year work permit.

Quiroz currently works for an optometry office and also runs his own marketing business.

But not all undocumented residents have this opportunity, as is the case for one SF State student who prefers to remain anonymous.

For legal security and due to the Trump administration’s plans to target immigrant communities, this 18-year-old has decided to marry her partner of two years. They plan to get married in mid-March, and want to avoid any legal repercussions that may come with revealing either identity.

She was 6 years old when she arrived in the U.S. with a Colombian tourist visa. She’s now a freshman nursing student.

“We left mostly because of the guerrillas, and because my dad’s business had just gone into bankruptcy,” said the anonymous student.

She was referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who are commonly known as guerillas. The FARC has been in armed conflict with the Colombian Government since 1964.

She was an AB 540 beneficiary before she applied for DACA status at the age of 16. During her senior year at Amador Valley High School, the anonymous student applied for a scholarship through TheDream.us website, which was designed for undocumented students who can’t apply for conventional financial aid.

“I had no academic help,” she said. “I remember going into my counselor’s office and asking her to help me fill out my Dream Act (application), and she was like ‘I don’t even know what that is.’”

She had help from her older sister, but primarily did research on her own to find scholarships for undocumented students.

She said not enough people had applied for the The Dream scholarship this year, and the organization TheDream.us is awarding any leftover funds to undocumented students who are in need of monetary aid for legal fees.

“More people need to take advantage of this,” she said.

She urges students to apply for the $25,000 scholarship and explained that being a DACA recipient was a requirement when she first applied, but no longer is.

She currently works for a clothing boutique in downtown Pleasanton, California.

Like the anonymous student, Pamela Ortiz also came to the U.S. with a visa, and is also an AB540 student and DACA recipient. Ortiz receives financial aid through the California Dream Act.

Ortiz, 23, is a senior studying studio art with a minor in education. She came to the U.S. when she was 9 years old.

Ortiz said the process was expensive when DACA was first introduced.

“A lot of lawyers were charging ridiculous amounts of money to help students fill out the application, but the application itself is almost $500,” Ortiz said.

In response, her parents became trained to fill out DACA paperwork and began helping members of their community in Stockton free of charge.

When Ortiz came to SF State she felt prepared to help others navigate the legislation and began working as a student assistant in the AB 540 Dream Office, where she currently assists other undocumented students.

Quiroz, Ortiz, and the anonymous student all face different and challenging situations ahead, and yet all remain hopeful.

Quiroz has no plans to go back to Mexico, adding, “I know there are so many allies and supporters that wouldn’t let it happen.”

Ortiz has made educational videos to help undocumented students apply for the California Dream Act by the March 2, 2017 deadline. She plans to continue helping others after she graduates in May.

“There’s a fellowship called the Dream SF Fellowship that’s just specifically for undocumented students in San Francisco, and they pair you with a nonprofit,” Ortiz said.

The anonymous student plans to use extra funds that the dream scholarship has provided in order to file for citizenship after she and her partner marry.

“I consider myself an American,” she said. “And to me going back to Columbia would never be an option.”

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