Jordan Panana Carbajal
Former Undocumented Student
California is home to more than three million undocumented residents, representing a fourth of all undocumented residents in the nation. Moreover, California graduates more undocumented high school students than any other state. While our Golden State is a national leader in supporting undocumented student success – including providing financial aid access and establishing on-campus supports across public colleges and universities in recent years – more can be done to remove the remaining barriers to college opportunity.
In his first year of community college, Jordan Carbajal realized that his campus, Santa Rosa Junior College, lacked the academic resources to support undocumented students through networking, academic guidance, and career pathways. Building these professional experiences is especially important for undocumented students, many of whom are additionally the first in their families to go to college and encounter barriers to traditional employment and career-building opportunities.
Jordan, therefore, took it upon himself to provide these resources by founding the Undocumented Student Union (USU), the first of its kind as his community college and publicized nationally as a pioneering program for undocumented college students.
“I worked to build a safe and friendly environment at USU because I understand the struggles of being undocumented,” shared Jordan.
The USU set out to support currently enrolled and prospective undocumented college students. Ensuring that students have a safe haven is essential to helping create a clear pathway to success. Jordan detailed the impacts of USU as having far-reaching effects on undocumented students’ lives by providing vital guidance, such as Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) renewal workshops when the program was still active. They supported students to renew their work permits, helping them obtain a social security number and driver’s license, ultimately providing deportation relief. USU also fostered crucial grassroots connections by conducting outreach to youth and parent groups, creating scholarships, offering tours to local universities, informing students about AB 60 (driver’s licenses for undocumented individuals), the California DREAM Act Application (an application for state financial aid), and providing ‘Know Your Rights’ workshops if students encounter Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
Jordan found that his involvement with the USU made him flourish as a student, as he had finally found camaraderie and adequate resource sharing on campus that could demystify his college experience. Jordan also credits programs like the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) and the Puente Program – both of which assist low-income and historically marginalized students – for motivating him.
With newly gained confidence, Jordan then became inspired to participate in student government, which then led to him becoming the student body president representing 30,000 students, getting involved in extracurricular activities, and improving his grades. “I went from graduating with one of the lowest GPAs in my high school to graduating from Santa Rosa Junior College to making the Dean’s honor roll,” shared Jordan, reflecting on his transformation.