As a mentor for Camp Golden Eagle, an outreach program aimed at increasing retention rates and student success here at CSULA, I became friends with one of the other mentors, Eddie.
Eddie is a prominent student leader involved in a fraternity and student government and dedicated to giving back to the campus community. Eddie is also undocumented, having emigrated from Mexico with his family at a very young age and grew up in the U.S. I learned that despite his upbeat demeanor, his immigration status is something that always weighs on his mind. He does not receive financial aid, cannot find employment, and has lost close friends as a result of revealing his undocumented status. All of this came as a surprise to me, having been born in the U.S. these are problems I never had to consider.
Inspired to learn more, I went to an event called AB540 Student Support: Stepping out of the Undocumented Shadows, hosted by the CCC and S.U.R.G.E, a student organization dedicated to promoting higher education among both high school and college students regardlessof legal status. I learned about a number of legislation including AB540, AB 130, AB 131, DACA, The Dream ACT, all geared toward helping undocumented students access financial support. Each act came with a list of requirements and forms to be filled out and deadlines to meet. I realized the depth of my naiveté regarding the challenges that students like Eddie, have to face. Imagine being a full time student and on top of that you cannot be employed and have limited or no access to financial aid so you have to do odd jobs to pay your bills, you have to deal with people who have strong negative opinions about your legal status, and you have to keep track of all the paperwork and law involved in your student status. I was impressed with the courage, diligence, and optimism of these students.
There is a great deal of fear and stigma involved in being an undocumented immigrant. At the conclusion of the presentation, the attendees were reminded that one of the most important things we can do is just be there, be understanding, and be supportive.
So what can we do as a campus to support these students?
AB 540: allows certain undocumented students to pay in-state tuition
AB 130: gives certain undocumented students access to privately funded scholarships
AB 131: gives certain undocumented students access to financial aid, partially derived from state funds
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): gives certain undocumented students work permits
DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act: grants certain undocumented students conditional permanent residency
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