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Local Higher Education

In Spite Of Challenges, IE Undocumented Students Celebrate Academic Success

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Natalya Estrada
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Students at Cal State San Bernardino gathered together to celebrate graduations, matriculations and the end of yet another successful school year, but something was different about these students. Unlike most they didn't fill out a FAFSA before attending. They couldn't apply for regular jobs and most of them can't get their license because they don't have the right paperwork. There's also the fear of being deported, taken from their families and separated by borders and laws. 

Maritza Gomez, 31 is graduating from CSUSB in less than two weeks. She reveals that in order to afford college she worked several under the table jobs. Prior to meeting other students like herself, Gomez was hesitant to reveal her status as an undocumented immigrant.

"I was afraid or maybe embarrassed to tell people that I'm undocumented. They're going to judge us. Just by everything that the media says. They're going to start putting us in a category, a category where we know that we don't belong." 

Gomez says that attending CSUSB and forming the Dreamers Club enabled her to become more open and aware of her status and she hopes to inspire other undocumented youth to come out of hiding. 

"We're not rapists, we're not dealers. We're actually regular people. regular people with dreams. We're your next door neighbor, the person driving next to you. We're just normal." 

Normal is the life that most of these students want. While many US citizens are used to getting their drivers license at 16, or filling out college applications in high school, students like Gomez were told it would be impossible.

But policies and procedures have changed for undocumented youth, particularly thanks to the DREAM Act which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors and DACA which is an immigration policy that allows undocumented people who entered the country before their 16th birthday prior to June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and also avoid deportation. 

These helped San Bernardino Valley College student Joel Calixto get into UCLA this year. Calixto found out about DACA while walking through the Fontana Swap Meet and hearing the news via radio merchants. 

"It was like breaking news, like a movie moment. I hear 'President Obama, Presidente Obama, DACA! DACA! DACA!' And we're all frantically trying to find out what it is." 

That's when he went home and researched it. Calixto applied for it and was able to apply to five different schools, including UC Riverside, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Davis. 

"You know I finished up my time at Valley College and then 2016 came around. I am happy to say as an undocumented student, I was accepted to all the universities." 

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Credit Natalya Estrada
Joel Calixto held up a UCLA acceptance flag described this achievement as a win for his community, the Dreamers.

Students from CSUSB, University of Redlands, Chaffey College, San Bernardino Valley College and various high schools around the Inland Empire also shared their stories with their peers. The event was put together by the CSUSB Dreamers Club and Congressman Pete Aguilar, who felt a deep connection to the students and their academic journeys. 

Aguilar had a similar childhood and says this was a fantastic opportunity to discuss immigration reform and how it impacts our community. 

"There are people on the other side of the issue, and I respect that. I can respect their passion and disagree with them. Our policy should be rooted in keeping families together. And I wont stand quietly when other people bring up proposals to divide families and hurt this region."

Students in California can apply for the California Dream Act at the California Student Aid Commissions' Website

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