Undocumented students talk about their struggles

Oscar Garcia, an undocumented student whose parents brought him from Mexico to the United States, told a crowd Monday that the Senate’s failure in December to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act might mean he has to leave the school he loves, since he is not eligible for federal financial aid.

Obstacles · Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, talked about the challenges undocumented students face. - Laura Walsh | Daily Trojan

“It would break my heart to leave the Trojans, but it’s an inevitability sometimes,” Garcia said. “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.”

The Latino Student Assembly hosted a panel Monday titled, “America: Where Dreams are Voted On” at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center to inform audience members of the struggles undocumented Californian students could have escaped with the passage of the DREAM Act, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for students whose parents are illegal immigrants.

“Being an undocumented student means a lot of things.  I really wanted to travel abroad, but I couldn’t do that — can’t do that,” said Sofia Campos, an undocumented immigrant and co-chair of  the Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success group at UCLA.

Besides being unable to afford university housing and having to commute two hours to school every day, Campos finds it nearly impossible to receive a college education.

“Our financial means are really limited,” Campos said. “We cannot receive federal aid, state aid and most scholarships are unavailable to us.”

Victor Narro, a professor of law at UCLA, said there are many misconceptions about undocumented students.

“We hear misinformation about the nature of the contribution of the immigrant,” Narro said.

Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, said employment is the key. He noted that, even if passed the DREAM Act might not have done enough.

“Unless you twin the DREAM Act with employment opportunities, it will not fufill its potential and people will not contribute to society,” Gutierrez said.

Students and professors came out of the meeting with positive feelings.

“I feel that I am really blessed and I really want to help keep making changes,” said Stephanie Barajas, a freshman majoring in theatre.

For supporters who feel similarly, Campos has helped promote the California DREAM Act, an initiative that does not address legalization but could help to provide deserving students with access to institutional aid.

“This is something we do believe is possible now,” Campos said. “The governor has come out and supported it, we just need to make sure we get the petitions to his desk and we hold him accountable to sign the bill.”

An earlier publication of this article misidentified Oscar Garcia, a sophomore from Mexico. The Daily Trojan regrets the error and has corrected the text above to reflect the accurate information.

21 replies
  1. UCLA Tuition Payer
    UCLA Tuition Payer says:

    None of these comments actually provides a solution. They are simply ranting about illegals, grouping them all into one category with stigmas and assumptions. There are thousands of talented, highly educated undocumented students who have spent the majority of their lives in the US and are so culturally American that you could have had tons of conversations with them and never be able to distinguish them from one who is legal. They are American, educated, and extremely loyal to the US. So what are you going to do with them? Stupidly send them back to torn countries full of corruption? Send them back when this country could actually USE them? At least come up with a viable solution like the DREAM Act attempts to do.

  2. Mayflower
    Mayflower says:

    These immigrants came to the United States after being misled into thinking that they could build a successful future and realize the “American Dream”, only to find out that it was all phony. THEY WERE LIED TO! The dream is fake! The US is full of selfish, greedy pigs who would murder and oppress them, and use them to fill up their for-profit prisons by calling them “illegal”. Americans are even mistreating the immigrant children who have lived here all their lives. If anyone truly cared about their legal status, they would have found a way to document them and keep them working without all the schemes involving rounding them up, with money changing hands and politicians and law-enforcement getting paid to “control” immigration. Dirty doings in the “Land of the Free”.

  3. Ras
    Ras says:

    Why is it our Senator’s failure for unrealized dreams of students from other countries? Why is it we can not have candid discussions about Mexico’s failure to create a country that its countrymen actually want to live in and not risk their lives to cross a dangerous border to work for minimum wage here in the States? I laugh whenever I hear the term “Mexican Pride” get shouted during immigration discussions – the irony of seeing millions of Mexicans fleeing their unlivable country yet claiming pride in that 3rd world conditions.

    Can we be totally honest here? What is the solution? Should the US just open up its borders and allow all of Mexico to come on in? How about we just make Mexico our 51st State? It is clear they do not know how to run a country worth living in and the most organized people there are the drug dealers. We can not cower away from the truth. We need to stop walking on eggshells around these issues if we really want future generations of Mexicans to increase the quality of life. Mexicans need to understand that it is quality, not quantity when it comes to having kids. They need to have fewer kids, but the ones they do have they need to parent better. Education needs to be emphasized more in that culture. If Mexico wants to stop being the cheap labor force for the US then they need to develop brains beyond brawn. How is it a small, village like country like South Korea 30 years ago looked like some 3rd world country and now they are some of the most tech savvy and industrialized nation in the world. what has Mexico done in the last 30 years? Have they invented new tech companies, car companies, professional services, etc? Mexico just look for US brains to come over and build auto plants for them and teach them to crank out cars for us. Mexicans need to learn how to fish, not just accept a pole, hook and line from the US.

    Some of the biggest impediments to aggressively approach the problems in Mexico lies in super liberal, apologetic cowards here in the US that always has to sugar coat and point out that the US can not lecture Mexico if we are not perfect ourselves. These are the same naive people who spend all their time in their white neighborhoods in Santa Monica but are experts on the realities of the Brown Man. Please give me a break. we need to call it like we see it and claim Mexico a disaster area if we really want to quickly and effectively treat the problem. That way we do not have to have undocumented students like Oscar Garcia complain he will not get federal financial aid when there are PLENTY of documented immigrants AND CITIZENS that will also not be getting federal financial aid as well. The fact so many of our politicians are so cowardly and unable to speak candidly about this problem is why we will never be able to effectively treat the disease. Mexico has about 110 million people. Has anyone driven through East LA and Boyle heights recently? Can we honestly say making the US more like Mexico is better for anyone? If anything, Mexico needs to adopt practices more like the US. If your Mexican Pride will not allow this then fine – just stay on your side of the fence.

  4. Rich Salas
    Rich Salas says:

    I am an American with mexican heritage, my natural father was an illegal immigrant, so save your ignorant “racist” blasts. Those in this country illegally are ILLEGALS, regardless of if it is their fault or not. We all pay for the mistakes of our parents. Luckily for me, my mother was an American. Regardless, back in the 60’s, the environment wasnt what it is today politically and economically. Those days we didnt have 23 million illegals to feed, cloth, treat medically, aand educate. 99% of illegals DO NOT PAY TAXES, so every single thing they do in this country is at the expense of an American. They dont even really contribute to the economic system becasue they hoard their money and send it back to mexico. It is time to stop with the crying and whining about the plight of the poor illegal, and start worrying about the plight of our own people. Illegals and their childeren dont belong here, should not be taking tax payers money to go to school or do anything, and should pack up, go home, and work to solve the problems with their own govt that caused them to leave in teh first place. enough of the bed wettitng, anti american, blame the USA first, all othre countries are better then we are, mentaility that is destroying this country by attempting to tear down capitalism and give away our quality of life. America first!

    • ZB
      ZB says:

      I am an undocumented American of South Asian heritage, and my family has been paying taxes for the last 23 years. You make assumptions without backing. Most undocumented individuals actually do pay taxes, contributing directly to many funds they are not allowed to take advantage of. If educated undocumented students were allowed to contribute to the US, then you would have more people willing to “feed, treat medically, and educate” the rest of the population. If anything, my university takes my tuition money to fund those who need financial aid, instead of me taking the money of others. Nobody is blaming the entire country, nor wetting the bed. It is simply a call to note that the immigration system is broken and does not allow talented de facto Americans to contribute to society, especially in such a time of need.

  5. magyart
    magyart says:

    Help fight illegal immigration. Visit the websites for NumbersUSA and ALIPAC. We need federal E-Verify legislation.

    STUDENT says:

    First off, i just want to mention that the Daily Trojan is HORRIBLE at fact checking. I personally know who Carlos Hernandez is and he is NOT undocumented. DAILY TROJAN FAIL .

  7. Seriously
    Seriously says:

    I think the author of this article forgot to mention the obvious fact. Children of parents who entered this country illegally are the VICTIMS of their parents’ wrong choices and actions. These kids had no choice but to follow their parents on this path and now they, as young adults, have to deal with the consequences. For all intents and purposes, children of illegal immigrants are “citizens” of the US, albeit illegal ones, but now they are handicapped by that status and have to compete with the rest of us with their hands tied behind their back. If you think about it, it’s pretty sad and you should show some compassion for your fellow citizens. After all, America is a land of immigrants from near and far and sometimes issues aren’t black and white.

  8. USC Tuition Payer
    USC Tuition Payer says:

    Hats off to Tommy and Roxy Jay for their comments….I was born in a foreign country and came here LEGALLY. I went to college in California and my family paid for me- no help of any kind. If they hadn’t been able to help, I would have taken a job to pay my own way.

    USC has become an elite institution that is very popular and very hard to get into. Who is the legal US family who’s otherwise qualified student is NOT attending USC because Carlos took his or her place?? What if it were your son or daughter who missed out?

    Oh, and I’m waiting for the posts calling anyone who is against ILLEGAL immigration a racist. It’s not about race, it’s about following the law in a law abiding country.

    • Tommy
      Tommy says:

      See I do disagree with you a little here. I don’t mind if an undocumented students gets into a great uni. They got in on merit and they more than likely add to everyone’s experience because it makes the campus more diverse. I do not, however, think that U.S. tax dollars should pay for the undocumented student’s tuition or that these student should get automatic citizenship. There is a legal process in place for becoming a citizen.

      • Bob
        Bob says:

        I do agree with you on your statement. Regardless of the situation, if you enter the country illegally, then you are breaking U.S laws and they should not be given any special circumstances.

        Like, the person below, my family immigrated legally, did the whole 9 yards and now I am a naturalized citizen. Passing the DREAM Act is a slap to my parents face who had to go through a decade+ of the naturalization process.

        • MP
          MP says:

          Bob your, parents went through the process not you. Most people are not given the chance to do it legally, that is the real problem. It is a slap on the face to the students that have excelled in school but are condemned to a life of unofficial slavery on the fields.

          • Bob
            Bob says:

            Clearly, you don’t understand the process of a naturalized citizen. When my parents become naturalized citizens, it doesn’t mean I automatically become one as well. True to the fact that I didn’t actually do much of the paper work, I still had to go in sign papers and get my certificate personally AND wait several years to do so. My parent’s planned ahead to start the naturalization process early so I don’t have to go through any educational ordeal.

            So, it is a slap in my family’s face to pay taxes for undocumented students to receive benefits regardless of the situation. As long as it isn’t taxpayers/government money, I’m all for undocumented student’s receive aid.

            On another note…
            “It is a slap on the face to the students that have excelled in school but are condemned to a life of unofficial slavery on the fields.” – I’m not even going to comment on this.

    • UCLA Tuition Payer
      UCLA Tuition Payer says:

      Note that undocumented students are required to pay tuition. A hefty percentage of this tuition money goes directly into a fund to help students such as yourself attend school. Most undocumented families also pay taxes, contributing to services they never access to. Unlike you who has the luxury of applying to a job, undocumented students must work odd jobs under the table, commute often from far distances, and attend school. Still, they manage to speak out eloquently about their circumstances. Why should the legal student be chosen over the more qualified student? Don’t you want your school’s education standards to be more competitive and based on merit, rather than immigration status?

      I am glad that the naturalization process was easy for you and your parents. Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone. Do you think these families are inept and haven’t actually tried to apply for legalization? They have been trying to work a broken system for decades. Also, the DREAM Act does NOT provide “automatic” citizenship for anyone. It actually makes someone be a conditional permanent resident for TEN years until they can apply for citizenship IF they have passed that time with good behavior.

  9. Tommy
    Tommy says:

    I have two questions and a thought.

    USC is expensive, California has amazing public schools that cost a lot less. Why would someone who is struggling financially choose an expensive private uni vs. a public one – esp. when they are comparable academically? (In-state tuition rates apply to undocumented students who graduate from high school in CA)

    Why not start the process of becoming a U.S. citizen?

    My parents immigrated here legally. It took a while, there were working visas, then guest visas, etc. The process is a pain in the @$$, but it’s there for a reason. I support people who go through the official process of becoming U.S. citizens. I don’t think there should be exceptions (except for refugees, etc). This is my opinion about all immigrants, whether they’re coming from Mongolia, Mexico, Morocco, or Macedonia.

    • UCLA Tuition Payer
      UCLA Tuition Payer says:

      I agree that California has other amazing schools that cost less. Perhaps they would choose a private institution because it was their dream to attend USC. Should they sacrifice this dream due to financial difficulty? They’ve grown up in the same classrooms and playgrounds you have, yet are expected to have different dreams from you due to lack of funds and access?

      An undocumented student is not allowed to start the process of becoming a US Citizen unless he goes back to his home country and applies from there. There simply is no form, no path, no way for an undocumented student, no matter how talented or educated to even APPLY for legalization or be in any sort of process for that matter. The DREAM Act would not be introduced if such a process actually existed. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if there was a path, no matter how long, if there was actually a process to enter.

  10. Roxy Jay
    Roxy Jay says:

    It is a right to be in this country. Undocumented means ILLEGAL. Let us not sugar coat this. There are many CITIZENS here that do not get Financial Aid because according to the law, they are “rich enough” to afford college without any help. These “rich enough” families are the dying middle class. These “rich enough” families can not afford to send their children to college because they are too busy sending other people’s children to college via taxes. These “rich enough” families are struggling with bills and high priced necessities. Why should tax payers pay for ILLEGAL immigrants to get an education, when we can’t even help law abiding CITIZENS?! America is facing a financial crisis with a HUGE debt. We need to lower this debt, and by giving out more handouts to people who broke the law by coming here illegally is only going to get us into a deeper hole.

    Not only do they want government money for school, but they also are pushing for employment? How nervy. Employment is a PRIVILEGE these days. Many employers are hiring illegals for cheap labor. This means taking jobs from Americans. This means taking jobs from high school students and college students. It is hard to sympathize on this issue. EVERYONE has a dream. To expect people to just HAND IT TO YOU is extremely asinine. Moreover, there WAS and IS a right and legal way of coming to this country. The parents of these students failed to abide by our laws and did not WAIT and PAY like the rest. It seems only fair that they pay now as they are lucky enough to even be here still… illegally.

        • MP
          MP says:

          Nope your wrong, they want the same chance as all other students. Just so you know, a big chunk of the tuition money on UC’s goes into a pool used for financial aid purposes. These student have zero access to the money they contribute. This law would give them access to what they pay for.

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