“I do not expect to be perfect, but I do expect to be of the best…[be] one of the best students, [be] one of the best citizen-models,” says an undocumented City College student, whose name was not used in this article to protect him from possible deportation.
Under the promise of anonymity, the student described expectations shared by many at City College, but added he has an extra motivation as an undocumented student. “I feel like this will prove that I do have the potential, that I’m as qualified as any other United States citizen.”
For an undocumented student like this man, who dreams of attending Stanford and of one day being a college professor, nothing is ever simple.
“When I first came to Sac City, I was a full time student and I was also working full time. I was working in the fields,” he says. “Let me tell you that’s a really, really tough job. And then also to be able to manage to do well in your studies, it’s really complicated.”
Complicated doesn’t begin to describe life for undocumented City College students, before—and now under—the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
“I was working 70-something hours a week,” he continued. “I’m not at the level where I can say I need to talk to my boss and tell him ‘I need to cut down my hours because of my school because in my position, then he’ll be like ‘OK you can’t work? Then you can go ahead and dedicate yourself to your studies, and then I’ll get someone else who will do the job for me.’”
Without legal access to even minimum wage jobs, without a driver’s license, and paying full price for classes each semester without being eligible for scholarships, hardships pile up, he says.
“We can’t really complain,” he says.
He explains how the consequences of speaking out can be serious.
“In society there’s this stigma, that undocumented students, they come to take American jobs, they are breaking the law, they’re criminals, and all this bad image that is there—that society created—so you feel intimidated,” he explains.
Although he was accepted to Sacramento State, a lack of funds forced him to turn down the offer. That is when he came to City College and found a different atmosphere.
“When I came to [City] College, I felt like I was able to open up because I saw more people like me who are also in school, trying to get an education and be open about it.” He says he found fellow undocumented students “fighting for their rights, because they believe that this should be given to them.”
Qualifying to be an AB 540 student, the undocumented student was eligible to pay in-state tuition costs. But that didn’t begin to address the cost of college, or his immigration status. That is why he hoped for the passage of the federal DREAM Act since he heard about it in high school.
“I saw [The DREAM Act] more like a permanent solution to this issue. Something that I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about looking for a job that will pay minimum wage, and I wouldn’t have to hide anymore,” he says. “[I thought] I’ll be able to have a driver’s license. I’ll have all the benefits that a U.S. citizen has, so I’ve thought of it as the solution to the issue and I was really hoping it would pass.”
But the DREAM Act stalled in Congress this year.
Still, the undocumented student is excited about DACA, and what it offers
“The first thing that came to my mind was job opportunities,” he said of his first reaction to the news of DACA. “If I receive a work permit I will be able to apply to this other job that pays more or this company that relates more to my studies, and not have to work in the fields.”
A self-described “average student,” the student says he has a good academic record and hopes of attending Stanford or UC Riverside, and one day becoming a college professor.
Yet until recently he could not drive to school legally. His hope mixes with practical concerns when he explains the benefits of DACA.
“It is a benefit that will allow me to show my potential and growth,” he says of the benefits of DACA and subsequent California legislation (AB 2189), granting driver’s licenses to those receiving work permits. “Also I didn’t have to worry so much about driving in Sacramento and being pulled over, having my car taken away, or even being deported just because I was driving without a license.”
Now he is waiting for an attorney to help him submit his application under DACA. The process itself doesn’t worry him.
“I don’t feel unsafe or insecure about the process because it’s been established that the information that goes to USCIS is not going to go to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. So we are safe in the process,” he says.
Still, there are bigger fears and questions that only time can answer.
“What worries me is if this deferred action doesn’t last,” he says about the future status of a temporary measure, “[What if] someone comes and takes it away or if something changes and we are not protected by deferred action any longer and there’s no other solution and then we end up being worse than when we started? So that is what mostly worries me.”
But the he says he can’t let fear or worry overcome him. After all, his dream of being on the other side of the lectern means he has to keep working as hard as he can.
And take what opportunities he can. He knows that to get into the universities he desires, to get the scholarships he wants to help fund his education, and to keep on top of it all, he has to meet a lot of expectations.
“I need to show that I am giving back and I’m not just a parasite as many people think,” he says, underlining his motivation. “So I do have this pressure on my shoulders of being of the best.”