As a student in the second semester of my sophomore year, I
am faced with many pivotal decisions. What should I declare as my major? Should
I apply to be a Resident Advisor? Do I want to study abroad? It appears as though everyone else in my class has these questions all
sorted out. Most of my friends have declared their majors, decided which
semester they will study abroad and where this endeavor will take them. My
peers have this decision-making process down to a science. Frankly, I just want
to toss a coin and leave it all up to probability. (Yes! I have learned
something in Stats!)
For me, the question of study abroad, which seems like an
easy choice for any student whose schedule permits it, requires a little more
thought than the others. People who have gone abroad almost always return changed for the better, recounting the wonders and life-altering experiences of
learning and living in a foreign country, sometimes in a completely different
culture. They have me totally convinced that studying abroad is an invaluable
experience and should be, unquestionably, an integral part of my academic
career here at college.
However, this choice is not such a no-brainer for an
undocumented student. The process is different, costly and sometimes troublesome.
I left Guatemala and moved to the United States with my family in August 2002.
One of many annual visits to this country evolved into a now 12-and-a-half-year stay. For reasons unknown, because I’m too scared to ask, my parents were
unable to fix our status at that time. In high school, having recently learned
and accepted my status, I would never have imagined that a study abroad opportunity
would be a feasible option in college. Then came DACA.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was created
through an executive order enacted by President Obama in June 2012.
Essentially, it gives a work permit and temporary protection to transnational youth
who meet certain criteria. DACA, coupled with Advance Parole, a document that
allows people without a valid visa to return to the United States after
traveling abroad, now provides me with the opportunity to go abroad. But
unfortunately, these measures do not necessarily guarantee my return. There is
a chance, though it is slim, that I would not be allowed to reenter the United
States. I would not rejoin my family, and I would not return to Pomona College.
It is for these threatening reasons that my mom is fervently
opposed to me going abroad. Even if there is a relatively small possibility
that I am denied reentry into the United States, this is too big of a chance
for her. Even so, while I acknowledge that the risk exists, I am completely
undecided on the subject. I see great value in the experience. I would love to
practice my Spanish in Chile, fully immersing myself in a new culture and
hopefully living with a Chilean family. These desires nearly tip the scale. But
then there is that risk hanging over my head, and I don’t know what to think.
During this time of deliberation, I seek the advice of my friends.
While discussing the matter with a friend of mine via text,
I realized that he was not aware of my status. So I told him. His response?
“Oh.” This is not the first time I have opened up about my status with a friend.
In fact, I am pretty open about it in general. However, I have encountered
friends and acquaintances that respond in a similar, impolite manner and it is
completely not OK. Sometimes, I am scared to disclose my status to people whom I do not know very well. It’s scary to divulge my status to people who belong to demographics that are
unsympathetic to immigrants. The act of telling someone something so personal
is a direct indication of my trust toward that particular person.
When an undocumented
student reveals their status to someone, the person on the receiving end needs
to address it rather than simply brushing it off or blatantly ignoring the
comment—that is why people are misinformed on this topic. A lot of my undocumented friends at the 5Cs and elsewhere have recounted stories of people who, upon
hearing about their status, immediately began offering legal advice or asking
inappropriate questions. These responses make us feel like we should not share
our status, make us feel belittled, ignored and insecure—all things that no
one should ever have to feel after being in a position of vulnerability.
Recently, awareness has been raised across the campuses
pertaining to what it means to be undocumented. It’s OK to have questions.
But before the questions begin, the undocumented student should be asked if
they are indeed comfortable with this kind of inquisition. I have heard people
ask, “Why are you undocumented? Why don’t you just ‘fix’ your status?” Some
people even go as far as peppering the student with questions about their
parents and how they go about finding jobs. All of these things are not OK to
ask, especially without clearing it with the student with whom you are
Each situation is different and the only people who should
be advising an undocumented person on legal matters are lawyers. While the good
intentions are appreciated, the advice can be overwhelming and frustrating. If
unsure about how to reply when an undocumented student ‘comes out’ to you, come
to an Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success (IDEAS) meeting or
approach an IDEAS member. We meet Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the
Chicano Latino Student Affairs Lounge.
Whatever you do, do not ignore our stories. We are here, and
we are your classmates, your neighbors and maybe even your friends. Acknowledge us.
Paola Reyes PO ’17 is
in the process of deciding her major, although she’s determined to pursue a
career in law.