Walking in the way of hope through education
By Paulette Sade Evande
Students with the uncommon experience of living on United States’ ground since their very young age without a legal status, they walk in the way of hope through education while coping with a temporary status. They are undocumented students also known as the Dreamers.
Many of those young people are unaware of their status until they start confronting certain obligations related to their education. Flor Reyes shares this experience. Originally from Mexico, Reyes came live in New York City with her parents when she was two years and ten months old. Later on in the eighth grade, she learned she was undocumented while getting ready for a class trip to the Republic of Costa Rica. As a heavy souvenir, Reyes remembers what happened that specific day: “They sent a letter home with every one says ‘we require every parents to have their child applying for a US passport’ and I took mine home to my mom. She basically said ‘what is it?’ ‘I need a US passport mom to travel to Costa Rica for the end of year trip.’” Reyes stops as her voice falls down. After a heavy breath she continues sadly as she was still feeling the pain of that moment. “She simply brought it out: ‘you cannot get one.” With tears on her eyes and with a shaking voice, Reyes repeated slowly her mom’s words, “’You are not a resident here, you are not a citizen here, you cannot get a USA passport. You cannot travel to other countries.’ After that I started to be worry about what else I was not eligible for,” Reyes said.
The struggles of undocumented students reach for the government’s sensibility from cities to the federal level. To mention the improvement being made to help this population, a delegation from the mayor’s office of the city of New York came to City College of New York during Immigrant Heritage Week to meet with undocumented students and to share information on the current status of immigration Executive Action and the work being done at the local, state and federal level to help undocumented immigrants who qualify for DACA and DAPA programs. “We want to make sure that everybody knows about them. The programs are for people who came here before they were 16, for those people who have children who are citizens or permanent residents of the US,” Maribel Hernandez Rivera, the Executive Director for Executive Action at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said. The Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) is designed to temporarily suspend the deportation of young people residing unlawfully in the United States and helps undocumented students get their work permits and some benefits toward pursuing college education.
DACA, with other government aids for the Dreamers, opens the door to many undocumented students who could not get to college before because the could not qualify for any benefits. Reyes said she experienced rejection when she was in high school when preparing to apply for college. With pain she said, after practicing how to fill out the college application and other documents as a class’s exercise with her classmates, she couldn’t fill out the real documents. “It was just me, I was sent to the corner of the class. They said you don’t qualify for this,” Reyes said with a sad smile. Today, that reality has changed many colleges across the country welcome many Dreamers. “We just pick in undergraduate students. In the 4 years plan, on the campus we have probably 600 hundred students that fit that status.” Michael Pagan, the Assistant Director of Admission at City College of New York said about the number of undocumented students at CCNY. In the campus Dreamers also get the support they need for their success and security. “Our mission is to make sure that number one, we increase awareness of issues around the student who are undocumented and the challenges they are faced in paying for school and in continuing their studies,” states Johanna Garcia, the Executive Director of the CCNY partnership. The plan of action of Johanna Garcia’s office is to not limit the issue on campus, but to reach out to students at the high school level to better prepare them to face the challenges that they may face once on campus.
Reyes now studies at Lehman College where she is majoring in Mathematics and Economy with Social Work as a minor. She collects scholarships to pay for her education. Even though she gets along with resident and citizen students who are very confortable with the subject of dreamers, she feels more confortable with those who share the same experience that she does. “Here at Lehman, I didn’t find a problem. I have been welcome in the community especially in the scholarship recipient for theBecas, all of them are basically undocumented, ” Reyes says with a smile.
Most of undocumented students prefer to keep their status anonymous to their friends and classmates to avoid feeling the pain of their daily struggles while they can escape it for a moment enjoying their time surrounded with other young people who don’t share their reality of being ‘illegal’, a word to remove from the vocabulary used to identify the Dreamers according to Garcia who deals with that issue when meeting with Dreamers. “When you say someone is illegal, you are talking about them as a human beings that they are an illegal entity with completely rejecting and denying the contribution that they have made and continue to make every day to our community, our society, to our economy and ignoring the challenges and struggles that their family has survived and continue to tackle every day, to make sure that they have that equal access to the American dream,” she says.
Reyes’ daily life is different from those of young people of her age who enjoy a different status. She encourages herself every day pushing with what comes in her way in hope to accomplish her dream. “I just wake up daily thinking, you know you have a new day of life, take advantage of it and make the best of it,” Reyes says. Getting a legal status is no longer an unrealizable dream; some students have seen their dream become reality through the path of education. “As a student is attending a university, they can change they illegal status. They can use DACA, they can get their green card, and they can become citizens. They can go from being undocumented to being documented,” Michael Pagan, The Assistant Director of Admission at CCNY, said.
As Reyes copes with the temporary status, she also carries a dream that comes from her experience with Social workers. “Sometimes we did not have anything to eat, sometimes we did not have a place to stay. People who helped us were social workers. I really thank them that I still here today and that I am able to continue go to school. So now, I just want to grow up and become a social worker too,” Reyes says. She holds her dream tight, considering the steps she has survived. “I want to become a resident and hopefully a citizen at one point. A temporary status is something. With DACA, I was able to get a worker’s permission; I was not eligible to work before,” Reyes recognizes gratefully, but that step forward did not completely take away the pain of the daily struggles that came with the status she did not choose. “We are human, we have feelings, we have struggles, we are not all the same we don’t get the same rights. It is all due to our status,” Reyes said, with tears in her eyes.