By Abi Lopez
While eating meals, or during class discussion, many Stanford students often carelessly wonder, “What’s the experience of an undocumented person?” without realizing that undocumented people happen to be their own classmates. The Student Immigrant Empowerment Project at Stanford (SIEPS) has been building a community of undocumented students for the past two years. We created this group because we first needed to find one another, before we could determine what was needed for our community at Stanford. The University did not have any infrastructure set in place to welcome students past a short email from Student Affairs assuring us that Stanford is an amazing place and directing us to their undocumented student website with information that wasn’t useful to our needs. Undocumented students were not even directly connected to each other, we had to find ourselves. As we transitioned to Stanford, we were met by an institution that assumes that we can figure things out on our own. Yet, while undocumented people are some of the most resilient and resourceful people out there, our own strengths are no excuse for the University’s shortcomings. Nobody should go through the hurdles we have.
Since 2017, the Trump administration has launched attacks against DACA, a program which has provided protection against deportation and work authorization for undocumented immigrants. On July 28, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement outlining new restrictions to the program which are being put into effect immediately. The limitations include the rejection of all new DACA applications, rejection of new and pending advance parole requests unless there are excruciating circumstances and the shortening of DACA protections from two years to one year. They have launched this new attack despite a U.S. District Court’s order to reinstate the program in its initial form. This attack, which began almost three years ago with Trump’s rescinding of DACA, directly harms our community. It affects students, workers and their children and brazenly threatens their existence.
After building the community that Stanford should’ve given us in the first place, we are now ready to share our stories. Four SIEPS members, each under a pseudonym, have provided a statement on our experiences as undocumented people at Stanford.
Please recognize that undocumented people are not just pawns for political policy. We are here and have been here all along. And we deserve just as equitable an education as citizens do. We ask that you stand in solidarity with the undocumented community. Read over our demands to the president and the provost and sign our petition regarding the recent changes to DACA. Write emails to Stanford administration here with our pre-written template and call for the establishment of an infrastructure that adequately supports our undocumented community.
Coming to Stanford, I felt an immense sense of hope and relief that this was going to be a new beginning. In many ways, this was true, but in many other ways, this was not the case. I felt that after coming to Stanford, I might be able to forget about my undocumented status. However, the reality was that I couldn’t.
There are 11 million undocumented migrants, but DACA only provided relief to 800,000 undocumented youth. I am a part of the 10.2 million individuals that have yet to receive any form of legislation. I have navigated Stanford without any form of documentation, the ability to legally work, any guidance from faculty or administration and very limited resources from the ethnic communities I am a part of. The help that I’ve received has mainly come from the people at SIEPS and the undocumented community I’ve cultivated outside of Stanford. I’ve been constantly hurt by a university that does nothing past release statements that state my importance, but are not backed by any action. Despite this personal experience, I stand with DACA beneficiaries and feel for them in the constant attacks they’ve endured under this administration and before it. We have to stand together and fight for relief for all 11 million undocumented migrants, as well as the millions of folks being displaced by violence.
I try not to think about being an undocumented student, even more so now that I have the privilege to continue my studies under DACA. However, the status placed on me plagues me incessantly. I arrived in the U.S. at the age of three, alongside my mother and older brother. We settled down in a community struggling with gang violence, poverty and homelessness. For a long time we were afraid of anyone finding out we were undocumented, and we refused help even when we were robbed and needed medical attention or academic aid.
Making the choice to pursue an education beyond high school has been life-changing, but it meant navigating a college admissions system that is set up to disproportionately exclude students from low-income neighborhoods. My high school did not have a dedicated college counselor and my family had no idea how to traverse them either. Being undocumented just added to the difficulty of it all. I thought the playing field would be evened out when I was approved for DACA, but even at the university level, I am often reminded about my status.
Before classes even started, while my colleagues spent hours discussing classes they were enrolling in, I had to deal with an enrollment hold due to being considered an international student. A week into my first quarter, I was billed with an extra $1,000 federal tax charge, something I could not easily afford. It was only after weeks of going between the Office of Student Affairs, Office of Financial Aid and meeting with a tax specialist that I was able to get rid of this charge. I was told that this charge was due to an error in my handling as an international student. In addition, this fall quarter I had to renew my DACA. Asking around on campus I was pointed to an immigration clinic off campus in East Palo Alto. While my peers focused on studying for midterms, indulging in the freshman experience, I had to make sure I could keep my DACA status and find a way to figure out my billing situation. My sophomore year I attended an engineering career fair and connected immediately with a recruiter for an R&D internship in a field I was eager to explore. Unfortunately, a few emails with the recruiter and their HR department later, I was told I had to be a citizen to apply, and to consider applying again if my status ever changed.
These are just a few of my struggles. While I am grateful to be able to study under DACA, even under this status I have these limits.
I’ve had both good and bad experiences as an undocumented student at Stanford. Things started off pretty rough. I had a lot of trouble when I was first admitted, trying to matriculate and enroll into classes. I was pushed around from one person to the next as no one was able to figure out why I could not enroll in classes, even though I told everyone I interacted with that I was an undocumented student. Staff were not provided with the proper training to deal with these situations. I tried to use the Stanford undocumented student webpage, but it wasn’t helpful. My issue was not resolved until I reached out to another undocumented friend and asked how they solved this issue when they first started school.
Another disappointing experience I’ve had as an undocumented student would be trying to communicate with administration. Earlier this year, when the DACA case was in the Supreme Court and receiving a lot of publicity, Stanford sent out a seemingly “warm” email about how they support DACA students, and asked for us to reach out to the Dean of Students with any concerns we were having. So I did. I emailed the dean about how the decision would affect us, and steps she could take to ease our mind. This was about two months ago and I have still yet to receive a reply … a simple “No, we can’t do XYZ” is better than no response whatsoever. The only real positive experiences I’ve had being an undocumented student at Stanford have been meeting other undocumented students and allies, who have really gone out of their way to make me feel at home.
For as long as I can remember, this country has been my home. My parents and I emigrated from Mexico to the United States when I was just an infant. My dearest memories take place in the diverse and vibrant community of the East Foothills of San Jose where I was raised and still live. But the star-shaped scar on my upper right arm reminds me otherwise. It reminds me that I was born in Mexico. It reminds me that I am undocumented.
I grew up knowing this fact, but was told that it wasn’t something I should share beyond family and close, trusted friends. This part of my identity wasn’t relevant until the last few years of high school and even more so in college. By then, I was lucky enough to have qualified and been approved to be a DACA recipient. DACA was a security blanket that prevented me from having to constantly look over my shoulder. I received a social security number that allowed me to work, and protection from being deported. However, it’s not perfect. It was then that I realized that I would have to climb over many more walls throughout my life as long as I was undocumented.
One night, as my friends were frantically deciding which year and quarter to decide to study abroad, they turned to me and asked where I fit it into my four-year plan. I responded with a vague answer and quickly changed the subject, not wanting to explain my situation. By the second quarter, I realized that my DACA was about to expire. I had to start my renewal process soon and I didn’t even know where to begin. To make matters worse, it was around the same time the Supreme Court was expected to make a decision on whether to terminate DACA. I had a meltdown, and experienced uncontrollable crying. I was confronted not only with stressful classes, but my DACA renewal, the Supreme Court decision on DACA and the isolating thought that no one else around me seemed to have these problems.
Luckily, someone mentioned a meeting hosted by the Student Immigration Empowerment Project at Stanford, and I decided to attend. And I am glad I did, because I met other Stanford students that were just like me. I felt a surge of warmth, learning that there was an organization rooting for my success, and advocating for protections and rights for undocumented people. There are about 10.5 million of us, and while we have always been a community full of talent and aspiration, we have lived silently in the shadows. This can no longer be the case. It is time we tell our stories, refute the heinous slander associated with the undocumented community and demand immigration reform, especially now more than ever.
Stand in solidarity with the undocumented community. Sign our petition to the president and the provost regarding the recent changes to DACA and demanding more support for undocumented students. Stanford has failed to even acknowledge the recent changes in DACA at undocumented.stanford.edu. Send emails to the Stanford administration with our pre-written template to support our call for adequate infrastructure to empower and support undocumented students.
We’re also working with the international student community to ask for Bechtel International Center to reform. Betchel is failing to meet the international and undocumented students’ needs and we are publishing a separate op-ed describing our demands.
ASSU has written a letter in solidarity with the undocumented community with relevant resources at the end of the letter. Follow Students2Stay (S2S) on Instagram for updates and ways to take action. S2S advocates for the protection of all students and college community members who are at risk of detainment, deportation and visa complications. If you want to get involved in our work, feel free to send S2S a message on Instagram. Stand in solidarity with us.
Contact SIEPS at siepstanford ‘at’ gmail.com and Abi Lopez at abieiden ‘at’ stanford.edu
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