Let me introduce you to two of them, Alison Kim and Amy Marcalle of Swarthmore College.
Amy, who is studying education and English literature, moved from the Dominican Republic at 12 and settled in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, a community with a large immigrant community and a racially-troubled past
. She graduated from community college summa cum laude
before coming to Swarthmore.
Alison’s family immigrated to Los Angeles from South Korea 14 years ago, and they went to a wealthy, largely white high school. “I’m pretty sure I was the only undocumented person,” they told me:
“Knowing that there’s somebody who knows that you’re ‘illegal’ is hard. It was difficult to bring that up to academic counselors, and so I had a very difficult time applying to college because of these limitations. And I’m a first generation college student, which means that I had to figure this out all by myself.”
Both students said they have found solidarity with undocumented students at Swarthmore and value the support they have gotten from professors. But other students don’t always fully understand their experience. Amy took a course where a book by an undocumented student was on the syllabus. During the class discussion, students didn’t have “bad opinions,” she said, but she recalls a fellow student criticizing the term “illegal immigrants”:
“She was like, that’s so inhumane. And in my head, I was thinking, imagine living as an undocumented immigrant.”
Alison, who restarted a committee on campus to reform policies for undocumented students, has suggestions about how colleges can better support students. More colleges need to (as Swarthmore does) provide financial support to undocumented students, who don’t qualify for federal aid, and they should develop additional opportunities for funding and work. They should have websites that consolidate resources for undocumented students and make them easily accessible. And while student groups are a crucial source of support, colleges ought to have a point person on staff dedicated to undocumented-student issues, Alison said.
Amy added college employees need to better understand the challenges undocumented students face. An admissions counselor during her college search asked why she didn’t return to the Dominican Republican and apply to American colleges as an international student, she recalled.
For Amy, a senior, and Alison, a junior, the future is uncertain and scary without more far-reaching action from Washington. Neither student qualifies for DACA and would not be affected by the new regulation. “I don’t want half-way measures,” said Amy, who plans to go into education policy. “I’m not looking to be a lawful undocumented immigrant. I just want to be legal.”
“I can have all these accolades and awards and a Swathmore College education. But at the end of the day, what people are going to see is that I am undocumented. So I always ask myself, what weighs heavier, a liberal-arts elite education or a green card?”
Alison is studying computer science and science technology studies; they dream of getting a Ph.D. and revolutionalizing how computer science is taught. But they worry about leaving the bubble of college:
“I’m very tired. I’m also very scared. I think of a lot of my ‘baggage’ as literal baggage that you just carry, and you can’t stop holding on to it. The more and more as time passes, the more tired you get from carrying all this weight. I am exhausted. I’m constantly living in fear not knowing what my future is going to hold.”
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