An ally is born for students without documents in Orange

Emely arrived from her native El Salvador four years ago and despite not having documents, she did not stop to study and finish high school and eventually enroll in Santa Ana College (SAC) in Orange County.

Fearful of not knowing the English language well, but eager to get ahead, Emely—whose last name is not provided due to her status—began taking classes for her career in graphic design.

“I am the first in my family to go to college. My goal is to be able to work as a graphic designer and then be able to buy a house and a car,” said the 20-year-old.

Emely said that once she enrolled in college, a counselor helped her connect to the Undocu-Scholars program dedicated to advising undocumented students.

“It has benefited me a lot because I was afraid when I entered school, everything was different. I thought there was going to be no one to help me and that I was going to be alone,” said the young woman. “The staff at the program have been a great help to me; [incluso] I feel more supported knowing that there are more people with the same situation as me”.

Solidarity with immigrants and refugees. (Supplied)

Emily explained that not only has she learned to get to know the college environment faster, but she has also learned how to look for financial aid, scholarships, and other opportunities available through the workshops they offer.

With different forms of help online and in person, the SAC openly becomes one more ally for undocumented students and their families. On May 10, the grand opening of the Undocu-Scholars Center was held, a center dedicated to specific interests for students without documents, with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and students living in mixed-status households. .

Maribel Pineda, counselor at SAC, said that for four years there has been the Undocu-Scholars program dedicated to providing support to immigrant students who do not have legal documents.

“What is new is that we now have a physical space that will open 40 hours a week for the beginning of the fall semester where any student who is undocumented or has an undocumented family member can enter and receive information,” Pineda said.

Some of the services offered by the Undocu-Scholars program are educational workshops, connecting students with attorneys or pro bono organizations that provide legal assistance including DACA renewal, Advance Parole —to travel outside the country with special permission— and information on how to know your rights.

Additionally, they offer workshops for students who are completely undocumented and want to explore ways to create income such as entrepreneurship opportunities if the young people have an ITIN number; In addition, they offer workshops and events for mental health.

“We take students on walks or just provide a space to talk about mental health,” Pineda said.

The also coordinator added that mental help is very important especially with the confusing decisions about DACA, including those who qualify, but cannot submit their application.

“Being undocumented creates a lot of anxiety, depression and fear,” Pineda said.

Each semester SAC receives more than 1,000 students who fall under the undocumented category —be they students with DACA, TPS, VAWA, expired visas, among others—, but through the Undocu-Scholars program they could only help about 100 students to the time.

Of the total number of students that the program helps, it is estimated that 90% are of Latin origin and the rest of Asian origin.

Now with the center there will be an open door policy where all students interested in receiving advice can come. Even US citizen students who live in mixed households and have questions can be helped.

The center has a study space, a microwave oven, refrigerator and will be considered a safe place where the most vulnerable students can feel comfortable away from home.

“When they’re filling out the FAFSA (federal financial aid), a lot of times parents don’t want their kids to submit the form because they say, ‘Are you going to report that I’m working and I shouldn’t be working?’ So that is another capacity with which we can advise,” said Pineda.

He added that a place like this is more important than ever right now because the need is high.

“We talk a lot about equity right now, and if we really want to be an equitable campus, having a place where students can go and get clarification on the barriers they face is key to removing their obstacles,” Pineda said.

Students participating in the program are assigned a counselor with whom they must meet at least once a semester and participate in monthly workshops.

To learn more about the program, you can send an email to [email protected]​ or [email protected]​ to schedule an advisory appointment.