Students face life without documentation
November 29, 2016
Among the students walking the halls of Akins High School is an unseen group of undocumented students; with uneasy minds frantic with the impending threats of deportation from newly elected President of the United States — Donald J. Trump.
Among these students is a 20 year old senior from Honduras. This senior’s journey to Austin came with many challenges.
“I’m never going to forget that experience, crossing the Rio Bravo,” he said. “My biggest challenge was walking with a way too hot climate. Walking five days is not easy and less when you run out of water and you still have to walk for three more days. Even worse was escaping from all the cops. Imagine when we started we were 30 people but only 12 made it to the U.S.”
Life in the United States isn’t particularly easy for him, but having his family with him makes it easier.
“Living here is difficult, but it’s easier than in Central America,” he said. “Finding a place to live for me was easy because my parents came to the U.S. before me and currently I live with them.”
In addition to being a high school student, he works after school.
“I have a job. I work in a cleaning company for four hours after school. I work for my own expenses, but sometimes I support my family too,” he said.
The senior said ACC is one of his first options for college, because of his legal status.
“I’m planning on going to ACC, so in the future I can get a better job,” he said.
He said his motivation for completing college is people not believing in him which “sometimes (helps) us to do better,” he said.
Applying for scholarships is another barrier that undocumented students have to face. The senior was only able to apply for scholarships that did not ask for a Social Security number.
Texas offers its own state application system for awarding financial aid called the TAFSA.
Undocumented students can use the TASFA to apply for help to pay for college. It’s helpful to these students because they are ineligible for federal student aid but they can get financial aid from the state if they have resided in Texas for three years prior to high school graduation or receipt of a GED.
Before Trump was elected, the student believes that the state of Texas offers enough help for undocumented students to go to college.
“I think at least in Texas most of the students can achieve success,” he said. “(Graduating) from college is one of my biggest goals in life, because in the future I will be able to get a good job to support my family, but most important is to have a successful life.”
An Akins junior also left Honduras to come to the United States; however, the way he arrived differs.
At the age of 13 years old, he and his parents used a visa to board a plane to Austin. “It was difficult to get a visa, leaving the family behind and leaving the house I lived in my whole life,” he said.
Luckily for the junior, he had family living in Texas and they were able to stay with them for a couple of months.
“Well my aunt already lived in the U.S. so she let us live with her for 4-5 months. Then (we) moved into an apartment with two bedrooms,” he said.
The junior has an emotional battle after building a life in one place only having to start over in another country.
Due to the presidential election results this student fears he will once again, have to abandon his stable life.
The first step for many undocumented students to attend college is to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status (DACA), which provides students with work permits and exemption from deportation.
Considering the results of the election, DACA is at risk for being revoked, worrying many immigrants.
Founded in 2000, University Leadership Initiative (ULI) is a grassroots organization led by undocumented immigrants based in Austin, TX.
ULI gave powerful advice to graduated high school and college students who don’t have a social security number.
“You need to join the movement, join the fight against anti-immigration bills. You are not alone. Be an activist, and protect the rights of the undocumented students. Don’t let your legal status define who you are. It’s a piece of paper, and it’s limited by a few things we can’t control. Your success should not be defined by their lack of a social security number.” Andrea Soto, DACA lead with ULI, said.
Sarah Barrentine, an English Second Language (ESL) teacher, said that most of her students are undocumented and face many challenges.
“Many have told me of their difficulties with becoming licensed drivers or with finding employment because they are without documentation or Social Security numbers,” Barrentine said.
Barrentine said many of these undocumented students are mistreated by their employers.
“Students who want to work have to work ‘under the table,’ meaning that their income isn’t reported to the government. Also, if they are working without proper documentation, they are always afraid of police investigation,” Barrentine said.
Because the government has no record of them on the business payroll, these workers are often taken advantage of and paid less than minimum wage.
Many of these students would like to become a United States citizen to avoid these barriers, but the process has many steps and is expensive.
The process to become a United States citizen takes six months to two years.
“The government should create an easier and speedier path toward US citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Many hard-working and very intelligent people are trying to create better lives for themselves in this country. We would all benefit from their having citizenship and their ability to pay taxes, which could be used to pay for better roads, schools, and services for all,” Barrentine said.
Advice from a Counselor:
Sarah Simmons, Akins College and Career counselor, works to help undocumented students to apply for college and financial aid. She estimates that between 15 percent and 18 percent of students are undocumented at Akins.
Simmons said that one of the biggest barriers these students face is not knowing that there are programs out there like DACA to help them make it to college.
“This is a very sensitive topic in America right now and they need to know that there are adults that care about them that are supportive of them and that are fighting for them to have rights and trying to be a voice for them. It’s hard for these students to have a voice and I want our students to know that there are people here they care about you we’re not judging anyone. And what I try to tell our staff is it doesn’t matter what you’re own political views are, it is the right of every youth living in the United States to obtain education and it is our job as educators to help them access that education. So it doesn’t matter what you believe personally your job as an educator is to educate students on their own rights and on their access to further education,” Simmons said.
Simmons said she has seen many success stories of undocumented students making it into college.
She said one of them is about to graduate from UT this December.
“He got financial aid and he’s graduating this December. He got married along the way,” she said.
If this is like a first kid in the family and he/she is undocumented it will be really hard for them.
“It’s extremely intimidating and so we try really hard to keep motivating them and be like no you gonna get through this I know it seems like a lot of work but like in the end it’s gonna pay off,” Simmons said.
“You will never be denied admission based on your citizenship so that is a myth that you can not be admitted based on your citizenship status, your admission is based on your residency,” Simmons said.