The Reality of Being Undocumented
March 17, 2011
Being ‘undocumented’ is exactly what it sounds like. It means, being without documents, thus being without a name, without a home. It means being without a documented past, without a present or future to document. Nonexistent almost, yet for the past couple of years, the undocumented youth have made themselves visible, known, heard.
The youth, most having graduated from college or almost there now, have faced many struggles with their status (that which was acquired through no fault of their own, a mere inheritance from their parents) and they decided they couldn’t continue to sit back and let this pass them by without at least putting up a fight.
So they came out of the shadows and spoke about their struggles. It is important to mention that undocumented youth usually fit the same description: they arrived in the United States within their first years of life, they grew up here, they went to school here, and they know English a lot better than they know their native language. Up until high school graduation, they believe they are just like all their peers, that they have the same opportunities, that they will lead similar lives.
The reality is a different one. In high school these students begin to see all the differences and begin to realize that not everyone is equal; that even though they are human too – they are not equal in the eyes of this country because they lack a social security number, a green card, documentation.
At 16 teenagers get to start driving. It is an American thing to get your first car in high school, however, this is when the eyes of the undocumented students begin to open as they cannot get a car because they cannot get a license. This is the beginning of an endless list of rejections. As teenagers, they cannot get an afterschool job because they can’t work in the country, and once they’re getting ready to apply to college, they are faced with obstacles that they never thought would happen.
Applying for college is difficult for undocumented students because they are allowed to apply, yet a lot of the people who are supposed to be in charge of admissions have no idea what to do with undocumented students. Once accepted, they have to figure out a way to pay for college given that their parents lack the resources to send them to school. Because they are undocumented, these students cannot apply for FAFSA, thus cannot receive federal aid. However, they can apply to something called TASFA (here in Texas) which is essentially the same thing as FAFSA, but only provides state aid and it has to be filled out manually. With the TASFA undocumented students can only receive two grants; everything else must be paid for with scholarships and personal education funds that most do not have. Scholarships are another hurdle, most of the time undocumented students are great candidates for these scholarships but then are faced with the crude reality of not being able to qualify for them because they do not have a social. Undocumented students cannot get a credit card, and it is even way more expensive to get a contract for a cell phone.
Once they jump over the hurdle of getting accepted and getting college paid for, they face new internal and external conflicts. Because undocumented students cannot get an I.D. it becomes more than just a simple yes or no when their friends invite them out because when they go out they are going to have to show a different I.D. that is not a state issued I.D. and will have to deal with questions, weird looks, and a moment that they’d rather avoid altogether.
Most college students study abroad to get a fuller college experience, and they do internships to be able to help build their resume. However, an undocumented student is not able to experience such wonderful things. They cannot travel as much as they’d want to study abroad because if they leave the country they cannot come back, and they can’t be hired for internships as they cannot work legally in the country. This being something that truly upsets them as they work just as hard and are just as deserving as their classmates.
Despite all these struggles, an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year and have dreams to go to college and graduate and get a job. However, the ones who do go to college and see through the rest of the struggles are faced with yet another bigger issue once they graduate.
As of right now, the only real, legal document that undocumented students can get their name on and valued is their college diploma, so naturally they take it very seriously. It means a lot to them. Current legislation allows these students to go to college and grants them residency for tuition purposes, yet once they graduate these students cannot work since they are not legally here, so they have a degree that is being wasted by waiting tables, cleaning houses, mowing lawns, etc. This is wasted talent, talent that if it is not polished and used, it will be lost. This country needs these students, for their contribution economically, culturally, and mentally.
© 2011. T.A.