For DREAMers, path to education can be filled with roadblocks
Be it financial hardship or bureaucratic technicalities, for undocumented MSU doctoral students Osvaldo Sandoval and Jose Badillo Carlos, routine tasks can require monumental effort because they lack American citizenship. Each effort is performed with the gnawing thought that their lives’ works could all be undone.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, are sets of legislation, some portions of which have already been passed, addressing issues faced by people like Badillo Carlos and Sandoval — birthright citizens of the United States, but with parents who originally migrated to this country without documentation.
“The DREAM Act gave us temporary legal residency, that’s what I’m on right now,” Sandoval said. “If approved in its entirety it will give people like me permanent residency with the opportunity to gain full citizenship in time.”
Living in fear
Depending on the actions of those in Washington D.C., Badillo Carlos, Sandoval and their families could potentially be deported to Mexico at any time.
“If Congress and the next president decide to change the laws, my family and others like me will not be able to continue building our lives, because we would have to go back to where we were,” Sandoval said. “Working with fake papers in jobs unrelated to our studies, living in fear that since we were a part of DACA the government has all of my family’s and my own information and they will deport us. That is, personally, my biggest fear.”
Badillo Carlos shares Sandoval’s fear.
“Going back would be like starting all over again because, even though I speak the language, the culture is so different than what I grew up with here,” Badillo Carlos said.
The prospect of deportation is made all the more frightening by the years of effort Badillo Carlos and Sandoval have put into obtaining their education in the U.S., despite having to cut through red tape in order to fund their education.
“We cannot apply for grants or scholarships given to citizens, so no FAFSA,” Badillo Carlos said. “We have to apply for private scholarships, which are hard to find and not as much money.”
The lack of financial assistance opportunities is even more substantial because many American colleges charge undocumented students international student tuition rates, regardless of whether the student meets in-state tuition rate residency requirements.
MSU now offers in-state tuition to undocumented students who attended Michigan high schools for three years. This new policy is effective the 2016 spring semester. Both the University of Michigan and Wayne State University changed their policies in 2013.
“Changing the policies occurs at more of a grass roots level,” vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education Casandra Ulbrich said. “It’s up to each institution to make that change.”
Previously, MSU charged undocumented students an additional $24,300 regardless of residency history, according to the MSU Office of Admissions website.
“It’s something that, safe to say, that our university leadership felt was the best approach after reviewing this over the past year,” MSU spokesman Jason Cody said.
Whatever college costs Badillo Carlos could not cover through familial or scholarship assistance had to be borrowed through private loans.
“Private loans aren’t like student loans,” Badillo Carlos said. “They don’t wait until you’re done with school to start charging you. They want money every month.”
Both Badillo Carlos and Sandoval worked long hours at multiple demanding jobs for years to finance their college educations.
“I used the weekends to work as many as hours as I could, double shifts, sometimes 12 hours at a time, then at night I would do my homework,” Sandoval said. “I would sleep four hours a night, five hours if I was lucky.”
Despite his work schedule, Sandoval was also an active leader in multiple Latino student groups while an undergraduate.
After all this effort, simple everyday tasks like going to work can become extremely difficult for undocumented migrants.
To legally work as teaching assistants, Badillo Carlos and Sandoval obtain work permits they must renew every two years. When this renewal process goes awry, the consequences can be dire, as Badillo Carlos personally experienced.
Badillo Carlos’ work permit was due to expire April of last year, so he sent in his application the recommended four months in advance.
Months passed and the permit’s expiration date neared. Badillo Carlos repeatedly called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to ask why his permit had not been renewed yet, never receiving a satisfactory answer, he said.
He reached out to the MSU Graduate Employees Union, which put him in touch with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in the hope she could assist Badillo Carlos.
The morning of the permit’s expiration, Badillo Carlos received a phone call from Stabenow’s office saying they had reached out to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on his behalf.
“I was heading to a conference at Ohio State that day and I was very worried because I knew that if my work permit was not renewed I wouldn’t have a job come that Monday,” Badillo Carlos said. “I was almost to Ohio State when I got another call from the senator’s office saying they had gotten a letter from immigration and my permit was going to be renewed the following week.”
Work permits are just one of countless stressors Badillo Carlos and others like him face. Even for kids, the social stigma related to illegal immigration cause many undocumented children to feel unaccepted. Badillo Carlos grew up in Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University for his undergraduate degree.
“My area had a huge Latino population and a lot of my friends were documented,” Badillo Carlos said. “There were a few instances where they would say stuff. It was something that we all knew, it was like the elephant in the room. People could tell by our accents, how we looked.”
Badillo Carlos’ undocumented status became even more apparent when his high school classmates began talking about college.
“The week before I took the ACTs I had a meeting with my counselor,” Badillo Carlos said. “She told me, ‘You don’t need to show up, you’re not going to college, you’re illegal.’ That was just shocking to me. She said, ‘You don’t have a social security number. Do you know what that is? It is a nine-digit number.’”
Badillo Carlos said he was upset.
“I went home to my parents and asked them what does this mean? They told me, ‘It will be hard but you’re going to college,’” Badillo Carlos said.
Badillo Carlos’ original counselor retired and was replaced by Pablo Alvarez, who became instrumental in his quest to attend college.
Alvarez saw many students face the challenges Badillo Carlos faced.
“A lot of students are made to feel hopeless and helpless,” Alvarez said. “I’ve seen many students not put forth their best effort because they feel what is the point?”
Despite being awarded numerous merit-based scholarships, funding his education was a constant battle for Badillo Carlos.
“It was like a chess game, you had to know what financial decisions to make several moves ahead,” Alvarez said. “Other kids who weren’t undocumented didn’t necessarily have to go through that stress.”
The number of financial resources and the visibility of the issues facing undocumented students seeking a college education has improved substantially, Alvarez said.
“You’ve probably heard the term FAFSA once or twice during your high school career. And odds are that everyone is worried about filling out on time. Well the good news is that if you’re undocumented you don’t really need to worry about submitting it,” the MSU Undocumented Student Guide to College reads.
Despite the uncertainty that surrounds Sandoval and Badillo Carlos’ educational careers, they maintain a humorous optimism.
Badillo Carlos’ license plate reads “DRBAD1.”
“They couldn’t fit Badillo on the plate, and I know I’ll be a doctor someday,” Badillo Carlos said. “I know.”