Undocumented: Emily’s Story

Emily came to the United States from South Korea when she was 10 years old. She always dreamed of going to college. Her family believed success in the United States was predicated on hard work. Emily was concerned that because of her undocumented status, her options for college were limited. But she also knew that there were more options for undocumented students in California.

The California legislature passed AB 540 in 2001, which allowed for undocumented students to pay in-state tuition prices if they attended a California high school for three or more years, graduated from a California high school or attained a G.E.D., and filed an affidavit stating that they would apply for legal residency as soon as possible.

Emily and her sister were both accepted to both UCLA and Berkeley. Emily to chose to attend Berkeley because a Berkeley orientation coordinator promised to help navigate the possibilities based on AB 540. But at that time, undocumented students were not allowed to receive state financial aid, institutional scholarships, or student loans, and Emily was unable to cover tuition costs. She had to drop out after one year at Berkeley.

Emily refused to give up. She went to work for a year, and was able to save enough money to re-enroll at Berkeley.

In 2012, Vice Chancellor Gibor Basri chaired a special task force on undocumented students. The Undocumented Student Program (USP) was formed. It provided undocumented students with a Dreamer Resource Center, academic counseling, emergency grants, housing resources, a Dream Lending Library, mental health and wellness, and immigration legal support.

“The program helped me have a sense of belonging on the campus for the first time”

The Undocumented Student Program gave Emily, and students like her, a safe space on campus. She felt a sense of belonging and ownership.

Emily graduated Berkeley in 2014. It is no coincidence that she now works with an advocacy group for immigrants and refugees. “The Berkeley pioneers who started programs like this encouraged me to find ways to give back to the community and help underserved groups,” she said. “I learned that I could be undocumented and still be able to serve my community.”

Read the original article on Berkeley’s Catalyst for Change.

Read the complete Case Study