Fourth year students Katia Ambrocio and Nicolas Lee are only a few months away from graduation at UC Santa Barbara. Ambrocio, who works as the Dream Scholar Peer Advisor at the UCSB Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, is a writer and painter majoring in Spanish and art. Lee, an engineering student who works with various Student Affairs departments, describes himself as a “very social engineer.”
High-achieving and deeply connected to their families and their cultures, Lee and Ambrocio will be entering the workforce in 2017 and infusing the economy with their hard work, skills and world-class UCSB education.
And they remain undocumented – a status classification applied to foreign-born individuals without the appropriate legal documents to live, work and vote as a citizen of the United States.
Under the current immigration system – despite living here in California for most of their young lives, paying taxes and working to pay their way through college – both Lee and Ambrocio have no clear path to citizenship and no guaranteed rights to social services or benefits.
Recent legislation like the California State Assembly Bill 540 (AB 540) signed by Governor Gray Davis in 2001, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action signed by President Barack Obama and 2014’s AB 2000 have paved the way for students like Lee and Ambrocio to access higher education opportunities.
Local initiatives like the Dream Scholars and the Gaucho-led Adsum Education Foundation have helped alleviate some of the financial and social pressures for undocumented individuals at UC Santa Barbara. In 2016, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced an influx of $8.4 million over the next three years to help support undocumented students in the system. The UC system is set to create a new low-interest student loan program matching federal rates, as well as increased support services for undocumented students, and funding for the Undocumented Legal Services Center. About 3,000 students enrolled at UCs would qualify for the new loan program.
Yet with each local initiative that moves them forward, the future of undocumented college students after graduation still remains ambiguous – and subject to changes in national leadership.
As they witnessed this year’s tumultuous presidential election unfold, both Lee and Ambrocio felt the stresses of watching many Americans sway in the direction of those hostile to immigrants. Their future – so bright, and full of promise and success – seemed fragile in the face of political change.
In this edition of our eCoastlines GAUCHO CONVERSATIONS series, Lee and Ambrocio share their unique points of view on their undocumented student experiences at UCSB, and how hope and hard work can be a powerful combination in the ever-present battle against discrimination and fear.