Applying for college admission and financial aid can be overwhelming for anyone, but it’s extra difficult for students and families who are undocumented.
San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton held its annual DREAM Conference on Saturday, to support undocumented students.
Some 200 people – undocumented students, families and their allies – turned up to learn about higher education resources in general – and specific to their community.
“As a newcomer, of course, you have the linguistic barrier, and that’s something that I have struggled with,” Delta College student Gloria said with a smile. “You probably can hear my accent right now.”
Gloria, who asked ABC10 not to use her last name because she is an undocumented immigrant, is in her second semester at Delta College. She arrived in the United States from Mexico when she was 14 years old.
She has taken the step to come out publicly as an undocumented immigrant, because she said she wants to highlight issues and advocate for her community.
“It’s about equality, and I think that’s something that we’re lacking,” she said. “I think that if we have more students who are willing to join the efforts that we’re making, we can definitely do better things in the future.”
Gloria and other students like her have unique needs, said Ed Aguilar —who manages the college’s Office of Student Equity and Diversity.
“The information students are receiving (at this DREAM Conference) are your standard bits of information, admissions, financial aid, scholarships. Any student or family is going to benefit,” Aguilar said. “But we partner strategically with a lot of community-based organizations. The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, who’s here doing a workshop on ‘Know Your Rights’ and immigrant law. We also have Immigrants Rising, a non-profit organization that’s doing a workshop on how they can start a business – entrepreneurship.”
For all the support San Joaquin Delta College offers its undocumented immigrants, there are a lot of people in Northern California and throughout the country who take a hard line on immigration and believe that undocumented immigrants should not be here illegally.
Last week, President Trump cited his reasons, as he declared a national emergency on the U.S. Southern border, allowing him to secure funding to build a border wall.
“We’re declaring it for virtual invasion purposes: drugs, traffickers and gangs,” he said in his announcement.
Erika Reyes is Delta College’s student ambassador for undocumented students.
She is not an undocumented immigrant, but she said her parents are, so she understands the struggles.
Ahead of this year’s DREAM Conference, she reached out in-person to undocumented families — at schools, in churches and community centers — to invite them to the event this weekend.
“They are scared,” Reyes said, commenting on the current climate. “I have come across a lot of parents that are concerned about coming to this event, you know, because we are advocating undocumented students. Everything’s undocumented, so they are scared. ‘Well, how do they know it’s going to be a safe event?'”
Fear is a part of daily life for undocumented immigrants, Aguilar said.
“That’s, unfortunately, part of the reality. There is a fear factor to this, and we recognize that, and we work closely with law enforcement. We’re working closely with local agencies,” Aguilar said. “We’re going to do the best we can to remind the community that we are a safe place. We’re an open-access college, but there’s only so much we can do.”
Of the approximately 18,000 students enrolled in Delta College, he said, anywhere from 600 to 800 of them are undocumented (3.3 to 4.4 percent), though there’s no hard data on that. Not everybody shares their status with the college – because that’s not a requirement.
“The beauty and the beast of our Country is, we are a country of immigrants,” Aguilar said. “We can’t lose sight of the greatest resource that we have here in this country, and it’s the human resource.”
He hopes to see more pathways to citizenship for people who come here and want to contribute.
“When they want to come here and work – and possibly do some jobs that others may not want to engage in, right? And pay taxes or seek an educational opportunity,” he said. “We are the greatest country for opportunity. And so as a public institute of higher education, we’re open to any student who wants to come here.”
For her part, Gloria wants to see more undocumented students join her public advocacy.
“It’s amazing that we have so many people that have a background related to immigration, but they’re not really open about it,” Gloria said. “That hurts people because you really want to have those role models, don’t you? Like, ‘Oh, I can be them, in that position, one day!'”
She pointed to fellow Latina, first-term Democratic Representative from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an example. But it’s clear that Gloria is a role model, too.
People who couldn’t attend Saturday’s conference can find resources for undocumented students and families on San Joaquin Delta College’s website.