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Business Officer Magazine

Undocumented: A Student PerspectiveUndocumented: A Student Perspective

An immigrant college student explains how the University of California–Davis seeks to boost retention among its undocumented student population.

By Claudia Rios

Although I was born in Mexico, all my childhood memories are of Richmond, Calif., where my family has lived since I was four years old. I went all through school in California, so it wasn't difficult in 2013 to gather the evidence I needed to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But it was still scary to provide my whole family's information to the government: If DACA doesn't work out, where does that leave your family? (Read also "Comfort Zones" in the January 2016 issue of Business Officer magazine.)

A Different Form of Documentation

My current immigration status is what my friends and I refer to as "DACAmented." Compared to former generations of undocumented students who had to navigate the system without any help from the government, my DACAmented status is definitely one of the privileges. For example, it enabled me to get a job on campus.

Other DACAmented students I know are still unable to secure a job or get paid for internships, because of the possibility of DACA being revoked or the uncertainty of being eligible to legally work on a two-year basis. Many employersat least in professional or advanced career areasstill hesitate to hire someone whose status depends upon the renewal of a temporary work permit. The future of DACA may also depend upon who takes office after the 2016 presidential election. 

Fortunately, California's Dream Act also took effect during my freshman year at UC Davis, enabling me to receive state grants. Coming from a low-income background, I would not have been able to afford school had it not been for the Dream Act. As it was, I had to pay for my first quarter out of pocket, using money from scholarships I'd received.

Even with the state funding, there's about a $5,000 gap each yearand we're not eligible for federal student loans. I work during the summers and winter breaks, helping my mom clean houses; and my parents still help me financially, mostly by paying for some food. I'm not in debtbut I'm always broke!

Much-Needed Support

I work 10 to 12 hours a week at the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center at UC Davis. My job is to be the communications liaison between the center and different campus entities, and serve as an overall advocate for undocumented students at the university.

The center offers many resources, including quiet study hours, legal services, free testing materials, and workshops. I appreciate its holistic approach to retentionit offers not only academic support through advising, but also opportunities for professional development. The center, which also provides mental health services, has helped me improve my overall well-being. For example, this year we are doing "Mellow Mondays," where we just get together to do a craft, de-stress, and take a little break from school. 

I believe the center's presence helps reduce the stigma of being undocumented, by making faculty and staff more aware of and educated about the different needs and struggles of undocumented students. We are your peers and neighbors, not the negative stereotypes often portrayed in the media.

After graduation this spring, I plan to spend two years with Teach for America, maybe teaching elementary bilingual students in my hometown. I'm the first one from my family to go to college, and I hope my experiences help me guide and motivate my three younger siblings in also pursuing a higher education, to enable them to reach their dreams and goals. 

CLAUDIA RIOS is a senior at the University of CaliforniaDavis, majoring in sociology and Chicana and Chicano studies.

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