Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Undocumented and afraid, part 2

Students taking in a lecture, October 2007
Students taking in a lecture, October 2007
Photo by Bryan Goseline/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In my previous post, I explained my rationale in going forward with a young undocumented college student's story after he requested that he remain anonymous.

The student had sent an e-mail to KPCC through the station's Public Insight Network, which allows the public to confidentially share their personal stories related to topics in the news. I'd asked him if he would be willing to participate in a Q&A for the Multi-American blog. He agreed, but later asked if I could publish his answers without using his name.

I briefly wondered if I should simply find another student's story to publish, one of the many who are coming out about their immigration status as they campaign for the DREAM Act. But then, would passing on this wary kid in Claremont, and on his fear, mean passing on part of the story?

My thought is that it would be. The flip side to the student activism surrounding the DREAM Act is that the students who are going public with their status are putting a great deal at risk. By coming out they risk deportation, and with that, separation from their families, their friends, and for many, the only country they know. There is much to lose, and not all are willing to take that chance.

The Claremont student has lived here since early childhood. Factor in that he has his parents and sister here also, and it's not difficult to understand his desire for anonymity while, at the same time, wanting to have his voice heard.

So here is his story:

Hi, I do not want to use my first or last name for the protection of myself and family.

I was born in East Asia. I am currently 19 years old, double majoring in Economics and Mathematics with a GPA of 3.2.

I came to the US when I was 6 years old, and we got here on tourist visas, with plans of getting residency; however, though our papers were turned in, the government's immigration service lost our papers, and by then it was too late for us to do anything about it as we were considered undocumented.

M-A: How does being undocumented color your experience as a student? How does it affect your post-college plans?

Student: My undocumented experience has made everything more difficult than necessary: getting into college, thinking about paying for college, getting a job, getting to the job, get a checking account, and so much more. I want to go into finance after I graduate, but this will be difficult for me without a SSN. I have not even been able to invest in stocks, as I would need a SSN to do so.

M-A: You’ve mentioned that you were able to get a scholarship to Pomona – private, I take it, since there is no public student aid available to you? How much has this helped?

Student: Yes, I was accepted to UC Berkeley and Los Angeles, but I did not receive any funding; however, luckily, I was accepted into Pomona College with a scholarship. Pomona College is a private college and most faculty and staff have been supportive from the Dean of Students, Miriam Feldblum, and Directors Sefa Aina, Sergio Marin, and Maria Tucker, all the way down to the professors. I am so grateful that Pomona College has given me the opportunity to attend such a great college and obtain a great education with a scholarship.

M-A: You mention having to work several jobs in addition. Do you help supplement your family’s income? What do your parents do for a living, and how does their status affect them and your family’s overall position and access to education for you (and any siblings)?

Student: I just try to help out around the house whenever possible. Over the summer, I have even worked three different jobs in order to save up for the school year. My dad works at a factory. Both my parents had great jobs, and we had comfortable lives, but they came to the US to give us the “American Dream.” Though they are much better off in their native country, they have done this all to give my sister and me, the opportunity to get a great education.

M-A: You’re an undocumented student born in Asia. Much immigration coverage, as well as the immigration debate in general, is focused around Latinos. How does this make you feel?

Student: As the immigration debate is focused around Latinos, people are surprise to hear that I am undocumented. I don’t know how to feel, but I know that I want to fight for my rights and get an equal opportunity here in the US. I think that Asian voices and stories are not as prominent, as many do not want to stick out and just want to fit in.

M-A: The DREAM Act is coming up for another vote, though whether it passes is iffy. How optimistic are you this time around?

Student: The Dream Act is coming up for another vote. I am enthused that we will have another vote; however, I am getting worn out and don’t know how much more hope I can have as every time I get my hopes up, it gets shot down over and over again.

M-A: If the DREAM Act does pass, what effect will it have on your life plans? And if it doesn’t, and you can’t find a way to adjust your status, then what?

Student: If the Dream Act passes, I don’t even know where to begin to say in what magnitude my life plans will be changed. I will be able to travel without worry, apply for a job/ school knowing I am getting the same opportunity as the student in the same class as me, and so much more. More importantly, I will not have the constant worry of the possibility of being deported.

If it doesn’t pass, I will still work my best to get my degrees and hope that some company will like what I have to offer and see if I could get residency. If not, I am running low on options and do not know what I can do.