An Undocumented Dream

Xpress Mag Staff

12982538225_9c726620ac_h
Undocumented SF State student Jessica Iniguez in the midst of other students on campus wearing her club IDEA’s “Education is a human right” shirt.

Story By Nicole Crittenden Photo By Jenny Sokolova

Nestled between the protective arms of her mother, one-year-old Jessica Iniguez and her parents say goodbye to their home in Jalisco as they depart on a thirty-six hour bus ride across Mexico. They are headed to a safe house in Tijuana where they can fill their bellies with food and rest before beginning the next phase of their journey. Iniguez, with her innocence, is unfazed by the intensity of the situation.

The air is still as the coyotes wait for the sun to go down before leading them into the dark unknown. Without a clue as to where they are, Iniguez’s parents are pointed in the direction of the city lights on the horizon. With the dreams of a better future guiding them through the vast Sonoran Desert, they set off on foot towards United States border, an invisible line in the sand. A line that gives them hope of their dreams coming true.

Twenty-three years later, Iniguez is a transfer student at SF State majoring in business with hopes of becoming an entrepreneur. Her story is similar to millions of students living in the United States. Her parents brought her here illegally with the hopes of creating a better life for her and her siblings. Despite growing up in Santa Cruz and identifying as an American, Iniguez is not a U.S. citizen.

“I always knew I was undocumented. I knew I was different,” says Iniguez.

Iniguez’s parents first migrated to a rough neighborhood in Oakland, where her older sister was born. Feeling isolated, afraid, and finding out that she was pregnant with Iniguez, her mother made the choice to move back to Mexico to be with her family, while her father stayed in the U.S. to work.

Iniguez was born on April 17, 1989 in Tepatitlán, Jalisco. After she was born, her father returned to Mexico. Her parents were then faced with making an incredibly hard decision. Eighteen months later, Iniguez crossed the border with her family, leaving her home country behind. She has not recrossed the border since.

“There are things that you are told growing up,” says Iniguez. “That you belong somewhere else, but I don’t know that home. It has never been something that I knew.”

Iniguez’s parents migrated to Santa Cruz to raise their family. In her neighborhood there were a handful of children that were undocumented so it was not something to be ashamed of, and she was not treated differently by her peers. Not until high school did her legal status become an issue.

Once you turn sixteen in the U.S. you can obtain a work permit. Because Iniguez knew she was not a legal citizen, she knew that she would not be able to get one. Despite this, she wanted to work so she looked into a tutoring job at her high school, assuming that it did not require special paperwork.

When Iniguez went to talk to the teacher in charge of tutoring, they told her to come back with her student ID and her social security card. A feeling of anxiety and frustration washed over her body, but she kept a calm composure.

“It is this feeling of panic, because you are panicking on the inside, but nobody knows,” says Iniguez. She was not sure if she should tell him the truth. Instead, Iniguez left and was never given the opportunity to tutor at her high school.

Because Iniguez was brought here at such a young age, she was easily able to assimilate into American culture. When situations of her legal status would arise, it would prove as an unwanted reminder that she was still undocumented, she was still an immigrant, and that she was inevitably going to be treated differently.

“All of my life I have been trying to offset my status,” says Iniguez. “I did not want to be associated with an illegal immigrant because I did not see myself that way.”

Iniguez graduated high school in the top five percent of her class and was guaranteed acceptance into all UC’s. Large letters would arrive in the mail with beautiful brochures advertising their schools. Iniguez knew that the only way she would be able to go to college was through financial aid and student loans, both of which she could not obtain because she was an undocumented student. In high school she was not informed by her counselors that she would be able to apply for AB 540 status or that there were scholarships that did not require citizenship.

“By that time I realized that I needed to find a different way to get through college,” says Iniguez.

After doing research on the Internet, she found scholarships for immigrant students and first learned more about AB 540. Even though the bill had been passed six years before, Iniguez never heard about it from her high school and community college counselors. She printed the AB 540 forms and submitted them by herself and was approved to be able to pay in-state tuition.

Assembly Bill 540 was passed in 2001 by Governor Grey Davis and allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at California postsecondary education institutions. This exponentially lowered the cost of tuition for undocumented students and made the dream of college a reality.

“You grow up all your life being denied certain privileges because of your status, but you do them anyways,” says Iniguez.

During the time Iniguez was going to Delta College, a community college in Stockton, the out-of-state tuition was around three hundred dollars per unit. A typical three unit class could have cost her close to a thousand dollars. With AB 540 status, she was able to pay in-state tuition, which allowed her to pay only twenty dollars per unit.

Iniguez went to community college for a few years and was able to find work with local organizations and save money to be able to make the initial transition to SF State.

Iniguez was legally able to receive financial aid through the California Dream Act, which was passed in 2011. This law applies to immigrant children who were brought to the U.S. without proper documentation before the age of sixteen. Without financial aid, the dream of a college education is unattainable for many students.

Another law that greatly helped Iniguez was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This law, signed by President Obama, allowed Iniguez to apply for employment authorization. Iniguez would no longer have to worry about finding work. This way she was able to make money and support herself in San Francisco.

“If I could just be here and belong here, that is all that would matter to me and that is what DACA did,” says Iniguez. “It just lets me be here without fear.”

Without her AB 540 status, the California Dream Act, and DACA, Iniguez does not believe she would be where she is today. Iniguez chose to go to SF State because she saw it as a sanctuary with like-minded people; those who would not judge her for her status, and a place where she could find the support to be herself.

“AB 540 students enrich our campus and bring a variety of different viewpoints and backgrounds,” says Professor Teresa Carrillo, chair of Latina/Latino studies.

One of the biggest things that has helped Iniguez tell her story is the club on campus called IDEAS, which stands for improving dreams equality access success. It is a place for undocumented students and their allies to come together and support each other, as well as provide resources for each other. Founded in 2008, it has evolved into a club that focuses on creating leadership within their members.

“It is very important to have this organization alive because there are a lot of undocumented students on our campus,” says Yadira Sanchez, president of IDEAS.

More than anything, they provide the emotional support that Iniguez and other students on campus need. For them, it is important to have a community who understands where they are coming from and the challenges they face.

“We try to showcase all of our members’ talents in different ways, which is empowering,” says Sanchez.

Iniguez is the marketing officer of IDEAS and uses the skills she has learned in the classroom to bring awareness about the club. She decided to major in business because she learned from a young age that she was going to have to rely on herself.

For her, independence means building her own business and learning how to make money for herself instead of depending on other people to give her a job, especially because of her immigration status. Education gives her the push to prove herself in the world and is something that nobody can take away from her.

“I see the future how I have always seen it,” says Iniguez. “You give me an obstacle and I will find a way around it.

Iniguez’s biggest dream is to one day be able to say that she was undocumented, and still was able to make a place for herself in this country.