Undocumented and Enrolled in College

Undocumented and Enrolled in College

Finding out I was undocumented wasn’t a surprise to me. It was just a fact. I grew up knowing I was undocumented like any other kid would know their name. Being “undocumented” means I am neither a US citizen nor a permanent resident even though I was brought to the US when I was 2. To put it in the simplest terms I have very limited rights and privileges in the United States. For example, I cannot receive government assistance of any kind, most importantly financial aid and health care.

I am not ignorant of that fact that I, at any second, may die because of my lack of access to the care I need. At least not without drowning my family with debt. I remember when I was still in middle school and a car hit my cousin (who was undocumented as well).  When she was told an emergency vehicle was on its way she told them there was no need for it because she knew her mom could not afford the bill. She could have died from internal bleeding that day just because of the high cost of health care without the government assistance that every US citizen gets. This incident was the first of many reminders of the rights I will never have.

I did not fully understand all the burdens that come with being an undocumented student until I reached high school. Once you’re in high school you realize the next big step after graduation is (for most) going to college. My choices were very limited because I couldn’t get financial aid. It was either community college or the state university branch in my hometown.

Luck was on my side, however, when my state’s own DREAM Act legislation was passed. This law says that undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition if they meet certain residency criteria. However, we are still ineligible for state and federal financial aid. To put it in perspective,  the annual tuition at community college is $3,496 and at the state universities, $9,348 — if you were commuting from home. In contrast, if I was given the financial aid I would be eligible for as a citizen, community college would be virtually free, and state universities would be around the cost of community colleges now, if not less because of my family’s financial circumstances.

Scholarships are also limited to undocumented students because most require a social security number.  I caught two lucky breaks when I won two small scholarships and received a generous donation. The two scholarships helped me pay for my books and a part of my tuition. The donation I received came from one of the most inspiring women I know. I have known her for about ten years now, and she has become an enormous part of my life. She is a strong educated woman who is always busy at work but still has time for her family and community. It is because of her that I am able attend a well-respected institution.

As of now, my first finals week has finished and grades are in. I’m proud of myself and grateful for all the blessings I’ve had so far. Being undocumented is a burden, but I have no time to pity myself. Right now is when I need to start working my hardest.  I encourage all undocumented students to work hard and never give up hope. Someday we’ll be recognized for who we are — hard-working Americans.

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