Students in the shadows
Dalia Pedro, Assistant Managing Editor
In light of the immigration debate that America is having, or pretending to have, there are many issues to be considered. How do we fix our immigration system? How do we deal with the undocumented population already living in the United States? Are we rewarding individuals for committing a crime by granting them temporary legal status? These are just a few of the questions that the country is asking.
It is easy to get caught up in politics, and only see things as presented by our political parties and the media. We forget about what it is that we are talking about, and in this case it is people. A large group of the undocumented population in the U.S. are students. These are children, teenagers, and young men and women who were brought to the United States at a young age. They have grown to see America as their homes and to consider themselves Americans.
These are students all over the country, living in our state, and some even attending our school. These are students who live in the shadows because of their immigration status. They lack the proper documentation to be a “legal” resident of this country, because they entered the country illegally as children. As a result of this, they are not allowed to receive federal aid to pursue higher education, and until 2012, these individuals lacked the ability to work in order to pay for school.
“On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They are also eligible for work authorization. Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status.” 1
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, created through an executive action by Barack Obama, changed the lives of many students. They suddenly had the ability to work in order to pay for school, and could live without the fear of being deported. At least for two years, with the possibility of a renewal.
On February 26, 2014, Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, passed into law the Real Hope Act, the state version of the Dream Act. The Real Hope Act opens the doors for students to make attending universities across the state affordable. The Real Hope Act gives students the chance to qualify for the state-need grant, a first come first serve grant that is awarded to students, but it does not guarantee that students will receive it. In order to qualify for the Real Hope Act students need to file the WAFSA.
Isabelle Mora, director of financial aid, explains that the “WAFSA is an acronym for Washington Application For Student Aid. It’s a way for undocumented students to apply for state aid. [Undocumented students] aren’t eligible for federal aid. Now schools can give [these students] institutional aid because they have information about family incomes.”
The Saint Martin’s University Office of Financial Aid received 15 WAFSA applications last year; this includes prospective students and continuing students. They will not know how many applications have been submitted until mid-February. Mora states that the financial aid office staff have been trained on the WAFSA, and students who do not qualify to apply for the WAFSA should not be afraid to stop by and ask for additional information. Another resource on campus for undocumented students in Diane Rodriguez, advisor of studies for pre-majors.
With the introduction of the WAFSA, Saint Martin’s University could become a more affordable option for undocumented students. Mora explains that there have been undocumented students at Saint Martin’s before, usually high-achieving students, who had to work extremely hard in order to pay for school. The Real Hope Act provides an additional resource for undocumented students to be able to afford higher education.
Our political climate in regards to immigration is centered on national security and building higher fences. However, the immigration debate is not that simple. It is a complex topic that affects over 11 million individuals in this country. Many of these individuals are students who have lived here most of their lives, and who positively contribute to our nation. Some of these are students who attend our school, are in our classes, and are American in every way, except that they do not have the paperwork that labels them as one.
Is being American defined by pieces of paper, or by the integrity of an individual who was raised to believe that all people are created equal? In the end, undocumented students are just any other student, worried about passing classes, being able to afford textbooks, and worried about the latest TV show. With one twist, due to the political climate, they can only hope that politicians do not take away the very thing which gives them the chance at a normal life.