Living in the Shadows

Stories from Undocumented Students

Pricila Gomez, Staff Writer, News Editor

Pricila Gomez
There are 2.6 million undocumented immigrants in the state of California, according to the Migration Policy Institute, making it the state with the largest number of undocumented immigrants.

An MVHS senior, who asked that he not be named, is sitting in a Carl’s Jr. when two border patrol police officers walk in. He feels the panic set in. “I didn’t say bye to my mom and family. I don’t know who to contact,” he thinks to himself. His first reaction is to stand up and leave. But his father puts his hand on his shoulder and assures him that everything is going to be okay. He observes as the officers go to the counter, order their food, and exit. “I was on edge for the rest of the day,” he says as he remembers that state of panic.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 5.3 million children living with unauthorized immigrant parents. Many of those are undocumented themselves. Many of these students are separated from their families and cannot go and visit them to their homeland because they risk not being able to return.

“I wish I was able to see them, but I can’t because then I won’t be able to return,” said an MVHS senior who asked to be only referred to by their initials A.L., in order to preserve his anonymity. “It’s like you’re missing the warmth of your family.”

Parents of undocumented students also suffer because they struggle to be reunited with their loved ones whom they left behind.

“My mom had to go back [to Mexico] to see her mom one last time and she did. My grandma passed away,” said an MVHS senior who was would like to be referred to as J.G. “She tried to come back, but she couldn’t, only my brother, who had citizenship could come. So my dad had to get $5000 to get to her comeback. I felt depressed thinking I would never see her again.”

While many of these students have the privilege of being able to travel back to their homeland, there are those who are not fortunate enough to have the opportunity. They must endure the gruesome hardship of being separated from loved ones.

“My sister is in Mexico and I haven’t seen her in fifteen years,”say Mario Alfaro, senior. His sister is twenty-three years and his niece is three years old. “I haven’t seen her daughter, my niece. It makes me sad, but more for my mom. She was left devastated. She had only one daughter. She was never able to see her.”

Some people forget to acknowledge that the there is a lot of consideration that goes into why a family decides to departure their homeland. Reasons range from poverty in their country, to violence in the area they lived in, and drug trafficking.

J.G. discusses his reasons for leaving his homeland. “My parents were considered poor and my dad lived as a taxi driver while my mom stayed at home. They wanted to come to the U.S. to try to have a better life. To live the American Dream.”

But for many of these people, the American Dream is unattainable because of one thing-their legal status. They are not given the opportunity that many American citizens have. They face social, economical, and political barriers.

Alfaro recalls the time when his aunt had been in a car accident. She suffered multiple fractures in her leg which required a surgery to put a metal rod to heal the injury. However, saving her leg also meant being thousand of dollars in debt because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for health coverage. “She owes about a quarter of a million dollars,” he said.

Undocumented workers perform jobs where they are overworked, underpaid, and receive no benefits. As reported by Pew Research, in 2014, eight million unauthorized immigrants were part of the U.S. workforce. Yet, these unauthorized workers cannot obtain a Social Security, which provides retirement, disability, dependent, and survivor benefits.

“My parents work underground and I think it would be better if they had Social Security so they don’t have to pay out of pocket on medical bill,” Alfaro said. “My parents haven’t bought a house because they can’t.” He explains how the money that the rent they pay for where they live in could have been easily invested into a house.

Many undocumented immigrants also face discrimination in places where racism is prominent, like the South. They are discriminated for their accents, their skin color, and their country of origin.This type of hatred for undocumented, and even documented, immigrants can be applied to any country.According to Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Hispanics in the United States have experienced some type of discrimination.

“There is a great sense of hostility,” Alfaro said. “My aunt was assaulted in Mississippi because she was speaking Spanish.They aren’t treated well. For example, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and Central Americans aren’t exactly welcomed in Mexico and I think it’s kind of ironic how people don’t want other [immigrants] to intrude their country.”

The DREAM Act brings relief to these students because it grants undocumented immigrants in the United States conditional residency, and with meeting further qualifications, it can lead to permanent residency. But according to the Educators for Fair Consideration, there are 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and only 2.1 million of those are eligible to apply to the DREAM Act.

“It gives you a way to get out of the cycle and my parents would have to pay for my college or else I just would not go,” says Alfaro. “I would have to work hard like my father, and that’s not the life I would like to live.”

The DREAM Act helps by making undocumented students eligible for federal student loans and makes it possible get financial aid.

“[Before] I wasn’t able to get a license or go to college, but laws have changed with the Dream Act and DACA. Now I am able to have the same rights as any other student,” says J.G. “Five or six years ago I couldn’t go to college and not going to college could really affect my life. Now I have that opportunity.”

In the beginning, I did not know anything about these people except their names and faces. Never thought much of them. Yes, they are undocumented, but that does not define who they are. They are athletes, children, students, and human beings. And I know I cannot necessarily relate my own experiences to theirs, but I can empathize with them.

These are the student among us. They are the people we see everyday. We may not speak to them, or acknowledge their existence, but they are there. Many of whom decided it would be better if they kept their identity a secret.  ‘Why?’ you may ask. Because that is the way they live, in the shadows. They hold their candle of hope amid the darkness. They are the invisible ones. They are the forgotten ones. But they are part of us.