4 undocumented Harvard students share their stories

The Harvard Gazette recently asked a few undocumented students at Harvard University about their hopes and concerns under the Trump administration.

One of President's Obama's immigration actions that had the biggest effect on higher education was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed individuals who came into the United States before their 16th birthdays to remain in the country while they are in school or working, among other cases and conditions.

President Trump's election prompted concerns about the future of DACA, and those concerns have grown in the wake of recent incidents in which security officials arrested DACA beneficiaries, such as Daniel Ramirez.

But research shows undocumented students often succeed in the face of hardship, and these Harvard University students are clear examples of that success.

Jin Park '18 is a molecular and cellular biology concentrator at Harvard with a secondary in ethnicity, migration, and rights. He would like to become a doctor.

Jin Park was born in South Korea and came to the United States when he was seven years old. Living in New York, he remained largely oblivious to the details regarding his undocumented status until applying for an internship. The interviewer said, "Sorry Jin, we don't allow illegal aliens to take part in this program." Jin says the passage of DACA changed his life, giving him the assurance and sense of security he always wanted.

Jin shares that getting in to Harvard made his parents feel that everything they've gone through was worth it—and that his parents tell him every day how proud they are of him. He hopes the Trump administration does not pull families apart. "I'm an American. This is my home," he says.

Laura Veira-Ramirez '20 is chemistry concentrator with a secondary in ethnicity, migration, and rights.

Laura Veira-Ramirez was born in Colombia and came to the United States when she was three years old. She recounts growing up in Connecticut, where she had to walk to a school event in the rain and arrived late because her parents did not have a driver's license, nor could they afford a car.

Veira-Ramirez  says she was very grateful for the passage of DACA because "I felt no one could touch me because I was lawfully here."  She felt empowered to get involved in activism, including with Connecticut Students for a Dream.

Veira-Ramirez eventually graduated high school with the highest GPA in her class, but in spite of this, she says it was still difficult to apply to college because of her undocumented status. In the future, she wants the narrative about all immigrants to change, not just those like DACA recipients who, she says, get held up on a pedestal. "Immigrants in general commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. And yet they continue criminalizing our community," she says.

How schools are responding to 'sanctuary campus' demands

Bruno Villegas McCubbin'19 is a social studies concentrator with a secondary in Romance languages. He hopes to become an immigration lawyer.   

Bruno Villegas McCubbin was born in Peru and came to the United States at age six. He saw that his parents struggled, but he says he thought they were only worried about money. He eventually learned from his mom that the problem was much deeper than that.

Villegas McCubbin says one of the things that hurts most about being undocumented is that you have to hide your identity. He worked hard in school both because he enjoyed it and because he did not want to contribute to his parents' stress, which was already high. Villegas McCubbin says his family was excited about his future when DACA was passed. When he was accepted into Harvard, he says his parents "freaked out" and "felt their sacrifice had paid off." Among his hopes for the future, he says he wants other undocumented students to have the same opportunity to attend college that he had.

Brenda Esqueda Morales'20 has not yet declared a concentration. She says she is simply in "survival mode" at the moment.

Brenda Esqueda Morales was born in Mexico and came to the United States at age six. She says her parents, who work as a landscaper and housekeeper, always pushed her to pursue higher education. Other people were not as encouraging: she says she was told she had no chance of going to college because she didn't have "papers."

Esqueda Morales says she met a counselor in high school who changed her life and helped her apply to college. But there were still complications: In her senior year of high school, house was raided by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who arrested her father and another of her relatives. She says that currently, her father is still attending ICE hearings and may be deported.

Esqueda Morales says she's grateful to be a DACA recipient and to have been accepted into Harvard, but her concerns for her family cause her a lot of pain. She shares that it's difficult for her to be hopeful at the moment because there is still so much uncertainty about what might happen to her family under the Trump administration.

(Mineo/Lincoln, Harvard Gazette, 5/4).

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