Jason highlighted key moments in his life—his few memories of South Korea, his journey to the United States, earning admission to college, etc., and now, he sat in my office coping with a question neither I, nor most other staff or faculty at CSU Long Beach would ever have to face for ourselves.
What does it mean to be undocumented?
Brought to California as a child, Jason struggled with the daunting reality of a soon-to-be expired visa. Technically, as he explained, he would have to return to South Korea, but he wanted to remain in California, where he had spent most of his life. His story is but one example of the approximately 75,000 undocumented higher education students who are caught within, between, and outside policies that significantly shape the lived experiences of college students.
Not all students’ stories are the same. This was a key takeaway of my time serving as Coordinator of the Dream Success Center at CSU Long Beach. The center served as a one-stop shop for all matters pertaining to undocumented students on campus: in-state tuition (AB 540), state financial aid (California Dream Act), studying abroad as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, scholarship information, healthcare resources, referrals to non-profit organizations for legal advice, and much more. While all students were in one way or another significantly impacted by their legal status (or lack of), it is undeniable that their experiences were not the same. Some faced significantly more challenges.
As a professional, it can be quite frustrating to want to help students but find it impossible to do so. For example, students that came to the United States at an older age than their fellow Dreamers may not meet entry requirements for DACA and may be ineligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid because they did not accumulate enough time enrolled in a California high school. Despite my best efforts, there is almost nothing I can do to help these students pay thousands and thousands of dollars for college when they are ineligible for aid. It was not uncommon for these students to take several semesters off from school to save for tuition and fees, and to spend well over four years in college as a result. Read More