Undocumented immigrants face unique challenges
By Deandra Han and Jennifer Rico
Angel Barragan now teaches a curriculum that empowers students despite their differences. Before he became the Ethnic Studies and Human Rights Expeditions teacher, he faced discrimination and racism because of his legal status as a student.
In a college critical thinking class, his professor had found out that he was undocumented and proceeded the next day to make a lesson on why illegal immigration was bad. Mr. Barragan was singled out and targeted. Classmates whom he had considered friends betrayed him and joined the professor in discussing why illegal immigration was bad.
California is home to over two million undocumented immigrants, with at least half a million residing in the Bay Area. Those who are undocumented constantly face adversity for their lack of legal status. They deal with a lack of financial aid, legal work, and support. They are often faced with discrimination and are in fear of being deported.
As a student, Mr. Barragan was exposed to the harsh reality of being undocumented and the process of deportation. His father was deported in 2011, and in the last couple of months, he watched his brother go through the same deportation process.
Being an immigrant himself, Mr. Barragan shared some difficulties of not being a U.S. citizen and not having those benefits.
“Well, I don’t have access to like Social Security benefits. Like, I don’t have access to unemployment if I were to lose my job at any moment if I lost my deferred action permit. I will not be able to continue to have a driver’s license or will continue to work,” he said.
Mr. Barragan added that he had to work twice as hard, to receive half the opportunities, while being aware of the actions he made, which could potentially affect his ability to remain in the country.
“I grew up in Redwood City,” he said. “My friends used to get in a lot of trouble, and you just have to remember that, like if my friends got in trouble, It was like a slap to the wrist and if I get in trouble, it could mean like I lose everything that I worked for; so I think it’s like that awareness that I need to be thinking about,” he added.
Summit Rainier senior Madelin Morales helps run the Define American club, which uses storytelling and real-life stories to reshape the country’s image of immigration. Morales spoke about the stereotypes often assigned to immigrants, and the negative connotation associated with the word “immigrant”.
“I feel like you hear a lot of like the crime associated parts of life like you associate those to undocumented people in general and immigrants,” she said. “There are definitely other stereotypes, of them being like, you know, criminals or bad students if we’re talking about like student wise like they’re the bad students that they don’t care about school”.
Morales additionally spoke on DACA, an immigration policy that gave deferred action to those who are undocumented in the U.S., meaning they could legally work.
“They were able to get jobs, legally,” she said. “They were able to get a driver’s license, get themselves around. I think it also helped out school wise because you do get that social security number, so DACA was like that program that gave hope,” she said.
Something that goes unaccredited for is the hard work that undocumented immigrants have to go through. The work that they do is often dismissed and overlooked solely because of their status.
Merle Kahn, an immigration defense lawyer, provides an important role in our community and for immigrants. Since the Bay Area is such a diverse place filled with many undocumented immigrants, her role is crucial. She provides legal counseling for undocumented immigrants, whether that be petitioning for a visa or helping them file for asylum.
Her process from beginning to end starts with the time they apply for relief until they receive citizenship if things go to plan. She explained why California is a great place for immigrants.
“Things are better for my clients in California than elsewhere. In California, undocumented students can attend university and still pay in-state tuition. But, once they graduate, it is very difficult for them to get jobs unless they have a work permit,” Ms. Kahn said. “It is almost impossible for most people who are undocumented to get a work permit. There are exceptions if they are eligible for visas,” she added.
California has different policies for undocumented immigrants and has different programs and scholarships that allow them to go to college, however, the process of applying for jobs afterward is the difficult part.
If the person does not have a work permit that means they either get paid under the table, in cash at a job that is willing to do that. Meanwhile, the chances of getting a decent wage are still up in the air and even then the threat of deportation is still a possibility.
DACA has played a significant role throughout the U.S. by giving undocumented immigrants much more opportunities that they originally did not have. “DACA was a huge deal because it gave nearly 800,000 people work permits,” said Ms. Kahn.
DACA has helped many people form a sense of stability, it eased and even took away the fear and anxiousness they had before they were under DACA.
As of March 5, 2018, the DACA program has been repealed and has left many immigrants without work or drivers licenses. Now only has it impacted past DACA recipients, it has also prevented the chance of future undocumented immigrants receiving those benefits under the program.
While undocumented immigrants are faced with constant hardships based on their status, U.S. citizens do not always realize the privileges that come with having citizenship.
“Also many of my clients don’t have freedoms that U.S. citizens take for granted … For a lot of people, it means that they cannot visit sick or dying parents or family members. It can be brutal,” Ms. Kahn said.
As a community, Rainier has done a lot of work to provide support and resources for students who have undocumented status. Staff work to research and provide these students with financial aid and other support programs. These programs aim to specifically provide undocumented students with some kind of financial support since they cannot receive U.S. financial aid.
Alberto Rodriguez, Rainier’s community engagement manager, engages with parents and students on a day-to-day basis, sometimes helping them out with situations that involve immigration. Along with other staff, he also helps out students and families by getting them where they need to be, whether that means helping out with college or just providing a sense of safety in general.
“That feeling of, I guess I’m not part of this community … that’s exactly the opposite of what I want students to leave here and it is a complete opposite of what I think all staff and faculty here want to live with,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
As a member of such a diverse community, he has a lot of family members or friends that are undocumented immigrants. Not only are they affected, but their loved ones as well. He expressed the anxiety that often comes with having loved ones of undocumented status.
“One of the aspects is that anxiety, of ‘Is today my last day?,’ ‘Is tomorrow my last day?’ Where that’s their anxiety and for me, my anxiety is, ‘Is today their last day?’,” he said.