Undocumented students have more to worry about than just classes

Many young people don’t think about their Social Security number until they need to use it to apply for jobs or college, but this nine-digit number is a gateway to many opportunities, and for some, a barrier.

Through the process of applying to this university, Lee, a junior elementary education major who chose to withhold her first name because of her citizenship status, discovered she was undocumented.

“I would have never guessed,” she said.

Motivated by her personal struggles, Lee created a campus support group for undocumented students and helped organize an event in the Stamp Student Union Atrium last night with the Asian American Studies Program and the Office of Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy.

At the event, “Undocumented Terp DREAMers: Coming Out of Our Shells,” undocumented residents shared their personal stories with an audience of about 50 students, faculty and staff.

“The first time I came out as undocumented, people would say, ‘But you don’t look Mexican,’” said Yves Gomes, a senior biochemistry major whose parents brought him to the U.S. from India when he was a young child.

Although Gomes considers himself lucky to have been able to remain in the U.S., his father and mother were deported in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

“I haven’t seen my parents in six years,” he said. “That’s six birthdays, six Christmases and six Thanksgivings that I’ve missed. The last time I saw my father, he was in handcuffs; last time I saw my mother, she had on a tracking bracelet like a dog.” 

In this state, anyone can apply to any public university regardless of citizenship status. 

With the proper merits, undocumented students are accepted into this university but must pay out-state-tuition, Hesse said. Two state programs, the Maryland Dream Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allow eligible students to receive in-state tuition.

Students who attended three years of high school and two years of community college in this state are eligible for in-state tuition at public universities through the Dream Act. Students registered under DACA for one year can receive in-state tuition and may apply to renew their DACA status every two years, said Erwin Hesse, an admissions counselor at this university.

But that two-year period of protection isn’t always comforting, said Lee, who registered for DACA after her first year of college and recently renewed her status.

When the two years are up, DACA provides no path to citizenship or permanent status, leaving students unsure about their future in an already unstable economy, Lee said.

The stresses of worrying about the future, potential deportation of family members and the rocky political climate in the U.S. are all part of the college experience for undocumented students, said Colleen O’Neal, a psychology professor who is conducting a study of undocumented and first-generation Latino students.

Although undocumented Latino immigrants are often the focus of media attention, there are many from other regions who don’t access available resources because the aid is not advertised in their communities, said Elizabeth Clark, a legal program assistant at CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit that serves low-income immigrant communities. 

An estimated 24 percent of eligible Korean immigrants in the area applied for DACA status through CASA de Maryland, Clark said. The organization is working on translating documents to Korean to help this demographic, she said.

Pratishtha Khanna, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, came to the U.S. from India with her family at the age of 10. She told the audience of the discrimination she watched her father go through and the difficulty of being associated with offensive terms like “alien.”

“Those who make up the melting pot still have to fight to remain in the melting pot,” she said. “I’m here to advocate for people like me who are unrecognized.”

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