The team at Educators for Fair Consideration
Rodrigo Dorador was only 9 years old when he immigrated to the United States as an undocumented alien from Mexico in 2000, settling in Phoenix with his mother, a highly trained chemical engineer, his 3-year-old sister and his father, a successful businessman who had been in the country since 1997.
Despite the promise of his newfound home, Dorador was met with challenges when it came to his education.
“When I began school, I only knew four words in English,” he said. “But I was really good at math.”
By the sixth grade, Dorador’s weaknesses had become strengths - and his strengths had gotten stronger. He was now fluent in English, even winning his school’s spelling bee and he began taking math classes at an eighth grade level.
His academic success continued through high school and after attending a Phoenix Jesuit college-prep school, transferred to Santa Clara University, earning a full-ride scholarship for undocumented students.
But as graduation approached, Dorador began to feel disengaged and felt a growing distance between himself and his fellow students.
“I had the worst time in career classes,” he said. “They really showed what was impossible for me.”
As an undocumented student, Dorador was going to be unable to legally work after graduation. He worried about how to make a living and contemplated a return to Arizona to earn a wage in construction with his father. All his hard work, all his talent, would do him little good after graduation.
Amy Lee, director of TRIO services and head of Laney College’s AB540 task force, said she sees many undocumented students with concerns like Dorador's.
“Many students have an end goal in mind, but they are unsure if they can do those things,” she said. “They can go to law school, but can they practice law?”
At the Peralta Colleges, there were 860 students who identified themselves as AB540 and another 746 students who did not provide a social security number and may also qualify, identifying as AB540 grants in-state tuition to undocumented students who meet certain criteria. They must have attended a California high school for three years, obtained a diploma or GED, be currently enrolled in an accredited public college or university and promise to apply for legal residency as soon as possible.
But since AB540’s passing by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, a number of other bills have been signed into law and some federal policies are making it easier for undocumented students like Dorador to receive an education and more importantly, put it to use.
The California Dream Act, passed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, is a set of two state bills aimed at ensuring the accessibility of higher education for undocumented students by providing additional state financial aid through state funding. AB130, which went into effect in January 2012, allows undocumented students access to private scholarships administered through California public colleges and universities.
To compliment AB130, AB131 gives undocumented students access to public sources of financial aid including institutional and state grants, the Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver and Extended Opportunity Program and Services aimed at helping students with language, social and economical disadvantages in education.
But to take advantage of the Dream Act, students must take the first step and self-identify as AB540.
“Right now, students must come forward on their own,” Lee said, but the process can be confusing and often times scary for the students.
“It’s difficult for any student to navigate a bureaucracy,” Lee said, and admits, “there is a risk, and some students are not sure of the outcome or consequences of coming forward.” But Lee also ensures students that coming forward as AB540 is not an admission that you are undocumented.
“The paper work doesn’t say anything about immigration status,” Lee said. “You can be a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident or undocumented and be AB540. A documented student who has been living in New York for the past two years, but has come back and doesn’t want to pay out-of-state rates can also qualify as AB540.”
For undocumented students, however, the greater risk is deportation and the inability to work once their education is complete. But a memo signed last June by President Obama is changing that.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, is policy change implemented by the Department of Homeland Security. Under the new policy, DACA allows certain undocumented aliens to stay in the United States without fear of deportation and grants a temporary two-year work permit.
For students like Dorador, this is making all the difference.
“I felt any dream I had was impossible before,” said Dorador. “I have hope now.”
To be eligible for DACA, an individual must have come to the United States before their 16th birthday and currently under the age of 31, be in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, not been convicted of a felony three misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security, continually resided in the U.S. since 2007 and hasn’t left the country since the memo was signed.
Dorador, who earned his B.A in Philosophy and Economics in 2012, sees DACA as his ticket to meaningful work in the United States.
“I’m just excited about talking to people to see what careers are about, to dream,” he said. And he’s not alone
It’s been estimated that DACA will benefit 1.76 million people nationwide. In Oakland, the school district has been so overwhelmed with requests for school records they printed a flyer referring all DACA requests to its records office at 746 Grand Ave., Portable A. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, the records office is prepared to provide free copies of student transcripts and enrollment history with graduation dates.
But proponents of immigration reform like Dorador’s employer Educator’s for Fair Consideration (E4FC) feel DACA doesn’t do enough.
Since DACA is not a law, but simply a policy change in the way the Department of Homeland Security uses its authority, it could disappear as quickly as it came. According to E4FC, “DACA became an agency policy overnight. This is important because as easily as it has been created, the entire DACA program could likewise be changed or terminated at anytime.”
DACA also does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
“The temporary DACA program falls short of what could be accomplished if something more permanent like the DREAM Act were passed.”
Despite their critiques, groups like E4FC and administrators like Lee are holding out hope that DACA may turn into something more.
“The students I know are smart, passionate and motivated,” Lee said. “It’s a real missed opportunity for our society to not let this group of people grow and participate fully in democracy.”