Memo provides the means to an end
DACA gives undocumented students reason to hope for successful careers in U.S.
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 19:02
Rodrigo Dorador was only nine years old when he immigrated to the United States as an undocumented alien from Mexico in 2000, settling in Phoenix, Ariz. with his mother, a highly trained chemical engineer, his three-year-old sister, and his father, a successful businessman who had been in the country since 1997.
Despite the promise of his newfound home, Dorador was met with challenges when it came to his education.
“When I began school, I only knew four words in English,” he said. “But I was really good at math.”
By the sixth grade, Dorador’s weaknesses had become strengths, and his strengths had gotten stronger. He was now fluent in English, even winning his school’s spelling bee, and he began taking math classes at an eighth grade level.
His academic success continued through high school, and after attending a Phoenix Jesuit college, transferred to Santa Clara University, earning a full-ride scholarship for undocumented students.
But as graduation approached, Dorador began to feel disengaged and felt a growing distance between himself and his fellow students. “I had the worst time in career classes,” he said. “They really showed what was impossible for me.”
As an undocumented student, Dorador was going to be unable to legally work after graduation. He worried about how to make a living, and contemplated a return to Arizona to earn a wage in construction with his father. All his hard work, all his talent, would do him little good after graduation.
Amy Lee, director of TRIO services and head of Laney College’s AB540 task force, says she sees many undocumented students with concerns like Dorador’s. “Many students have an end goal in mind, but they are unsure if they can do those things,” she said. “They can go to law school, but can they practice law?”
At the Peralta Colleges, there were 860 students who identified themselves as AB540, and another 746 students who did not provide a social security number and may also qualify. Identifying as AB540 grants in-state tuition to undocumented students who meet certain criteria. They must have attended a California high school for three years, obtained a diploma or GED, be currently enrolled in an accredited public college or university and promise to apply for legal residency as soon as possible.
But since AB540’s passing by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, a number of other bills have been signed into law, and some federal policies are making it easier for undocumented students like Dorador to receive an education and more importantly, put it to use.
The California Dream Act, passed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, is a set of two state bills aimed at ensuring the accessibility of higher education for undocumented students by providing additional state financial aid through state funding. AB130, which went into effect in January of 2012, allows undocumented students access to private scholarships administered through California public colleges and universities.
To complement AB130, AB131 gives undocumented students access to public sources of financial aid including institutional and state grants, the Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver and Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) aimed at helping students with language, social and economical disadvantages in education.
But to take advantage of the Dream Act, students must take the first step and self-identify as AB540. “Right now, students must come forward on their own,” Lee said, but the process can be confusing, and often times scary for the students.
“It’s difficult for any student to navigate a bureaucracy,” Lee said, and she admits, “There is a risk, and some students are not sure of the outcome or consequences of coming forward.” But Lee also ensures students that coming forward as AB540 is not an admission that you are undocumented.
“The paperwork doesn’t say anything about immigration status,” Lee said. “You can be a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident or undocumented and be AB540. A documented student who has been living in New York for the past two years, but has come back and doesn’t want to pay out-of-state rates can also qualify as AB540.”
For undocumented students, however, the greater risk is deportation, and the inability to work once their education is complete. But a memo signed last June by President Obama is changing that.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, is policy change implemented by the Department of Homeland Security. Under the new policy, DACA allows certain undocumented aliens to stay in the United States without fear of deportation, and grants a temporary two-year work permit.