Undocumented youth and Stanford students talk immigration struggles, college admissions

April 25, 2016, 12:56 a.m.

Undocumented students from Sequoia High School commanded a crowd of about 70 people with their personal stories of migration and struggle at El Centro Chicano last week. The education session was organized by MeCHA de Stanford, Latin@s Unid@s de Stanford and the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) in collaboration with Redwood City 2020 and Sequoia High School’s Dream Club.

A student leader of the high school’s Dream Club recalled, “I didn’t know what it meant to be undocumented ’til high school. There were community service trips outside the country, but I can’t go, because I’m undocumented.”

“It was really heartbreaking because I really wanted to be involved in helping communities,” the student added, speaking directly to the audience and setting the tone for the evening.

Working with the Dream Club has been Sequoia High students’ way of helping an underserved community. Founded by an undocumented student who has since graduated, the Dream Club organizes an annual fundraising dinner to fund a scholarship for undocumented Sequoia seniors. Their other work is a mixture of outreach and community self-help, ranging from conferences and teach-ins on their personal experiences to college application workshops for undocumented students.

Undocumented students and Stanford

Stanford audience members also focused on higher education for undocumented youth in the brainstorming session that followed. Stanford has been known to admit undocumented students with full financial aid, but publicly available information is confusing at best. For instance, the Stanford Bulletin “requires that all those who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. registered permanent residents must obtain and maintain an appropriate visa status for their stay in the United States.”

Audience members worried that undocumented high schoolers may be discouraged by legal barriers or a lack of information.

“I know someone who was undocumented and had to apply to Stanford as an international student, which is that much harder just looking at admission rates,” Andrea Flores ’18 said.

In particular, admissions for international students is need-aware at Stanford, meaning that students who seek financial aid as international applicants face stiffer competition than other applicants.

“Having Stanford release a written statement on admitting undocumented students is important,” one audience member suggested. “I’ve heard from undocumented students saying that college counselors told them they shouldn’t apply, when in fact they have the same process in financial aid, just that they get aid from the institution and not the government.”

Speaking directly to the Sequoia High students, she added, “You all definitely need to be on this campus.”

Hannah Nguyen ‘19 suggested providing specific information on the application and aid process for undocumented high school students. Nguyen stated that she had contacted Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw with her idea after returning from an Alternative Spring Break trip on immigrant justice, but was not met with support.

Other ideas included support groups for undocumented students who are currently attending Stanford as well as a mentorship program for undocumented high school students in Sequoia High School.

The power of a story

Although audience response was strong, the floor belonged to the Dream Club for the bulk of the session. Each club member led a small group in sharing their personal experiences and further action to help undocumented students.

The front of El Centro was covered with six-word stories written by the Dream Club members. “I didn’t even recognize my mom,” read one posterboard. “Separated by force, united by choice,” read another.

The mixture of struggle and strength came through in the stories the students shared with the crowd.

Even as she teared up while she described her fear for her family’s future once her father retired, one club leader stated, “I’m always going to be undocumented, but I’m proud to say I’m always going to advocate for my family and those too scared to stand up.”


Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Fangzhou Liu ’19 was Vol. 253 Executive Editor; before that, she co-led the news section. She grew up in Singapore and studies computer science and linguistics.

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