Undocumented Students Face Added Struggles

December 6, 2016

By Crystal Medrano

Before graduating high school, junior Jaqueline Romo didn’t think she was going to attend college. After two years of paying out of pocket at a community college, she applied for a nationwide scholarship for immigrant students. After anxious weeks of waiting, news broke and Romo was beyond excited that she would be able to continue her studies.

Dominican’s student population is 43.8 percent Hispanic, so it is no surprise that there are undocumented students at Dominican.

Typical college students struggle with getting through their tiring, busy schedules. It seems like 24 hours are not enough to go to classes, do homework, go to work and sometimes even go to practice. What some people don’t realize is the extra burden that undocumented students have on top of the regular college workload.

Most college students would agree that the biggest struggle for them is money; however, according to Spanish professors Lisa Petrov and Lily Ibarra, the pinch is much tighter for undocumented students.

Undocumented students have to pay cash during the school, which requires them to pay monthly tuition and forces them to get jobs.

“If documented students work hard to pay for college, undocumented students work twice as hard because of the lack of access to loans,” Petrov said.

Most people don’t know that undocumented students don’t have access to any government grants or loans.

Ibarra agreed and added that the financial burden “starts to affect everything including their health.”

Undocumented students don’t have access to any loans or grants to help pay for their education, they can however, apply for merit based scholarships and even then, a lot of them have restrictions on who can and cannot apply.

Romo explained how she was able to apply for TheDream U.S, which is a national scholarship created to help immigrant students who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) achieve an education. It is a two-year renewable immigration policy that allows for immigrants who came to the U.S before their 16th birthday and before 2007 to get a driver’s license and a work permit.

Petrov explained that it creates a sense of “security” from deportation.

But even applying for DACA has a downside because every two years DACA has to be renewed for $456, adding yet another burden to the expense pile. Nonetheless, DACA has created a “safe zone” for undocumented students like Romo and she is grateful for it.

 “I am here at Dominican because of DACA,” she said.

As explained before, Dominican is a Hispanic-serving institution and many would say they are proud of what Dominican does for these students.

Ibarra said Dominican is definitely on the forefront of Catholic institutions in terms of supporting undocumented students.                       

“I commend our institution for being a safe space for dreamers but, we still have work to do,” Ibarra said. “Dominican needs to educate the whole school including faculty members who lack knowledge and empathy toward these students.”

Petrov agreed with Ibarra, and praised Dominican’s President Donna Carroll for “putting Dominican on the map”.

Dominican also has a student organization dedicated to creating a safe space named DISK, or Dominican Immigrant Student Collective. In 2015, Chief Diversity Officer Sheila Radford-Hill set up the DREAMzone Ally course designed to educate faculty and staff about undocumented students.

“It was like an undocumented 101,” Ibarra said.

As “safe zoned” as Dominican may be, Romo thinks that “there needs to be more dialogue between undocs and other students to make them more aware, especially because not every undocumented student is open about their immigration status.”

Because of this, Romo and Petrov say that some students who are shy can miss out on opportunity for support.

Although Romo is grateful for Dominican, she said that there are still a lot of communication problems. She said she “doesn’t know when or where she can be open about her immigration status because she doesn’t know how people will react.”

Other students- both documented and undocumented- share the same concerns when speaking of sensitive and controversial topics.

“People are not comfortable because they don’t know how to talk about it and they need to be educated in order to be OK to talk about it,” Romo said. “What keeps me pushing through school is my want to give back to my community like how they have helped me.”

Petrov, Ibarra and Romo all agree that least one staff member should be dedicated solely to helping undocumented students. This will help not only to help them feel more comfortable and open, but for guidance as well because most if not all undocumented students are first generation in their families going to college.

“We need the go-to person because even now, I as a junior, feel lost in my career choice and I need someone who can understand and help guide me,” Romo said.

medrcrys@my.dom.edu