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Group discusses undocumented students hurdles in attending college

Kenia Calderon has a dream to make colleges more diverse and help more undocumented students receive an education.

Uprising Dreamers awareness was an important topic at the Discuss with Dreamers event Jan. 27.

Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. collaborated with Mexican American Young Achievers Society — MAYAS — and A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy — AMOS — to bring awareness to undocumented students and the challenges they face to gain admittance into a university.

Inspiration for the event came after the Iowa Freedom Summit.

Calderon and fellow DREAMers protested at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a gathering of possible Republican presidential candidates, held Jan. 24 in Des Moines. She confronted Jim DeMint, a Republican and former U.S. senator for South Carolina from 2005 to 2013, by saying, “Sir, I’m a DREAMer, do you care about me?” to which he replied, “I support policies, not people.”

Ricardo Corona, senior in civil engineering and MAYAS president, has parents who are undocumented. He has cousins and knows others who are DREAMers who are going through issues. He said he feels like it’s an important issue for people to understand. 

“The best way for somebody to change and realize it’s wrong and experience it themselves, so bringing the DREAMers here to talk to other people to build those personal relationships, maybe that will spark a light bulb on importance on this issue,” Corona said.

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was a bill Congress passed in 2011. This would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and attended school here. The term “DREAMer” has been used to describe young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, who have lived and gone to school here.

The term DREAMer took its name from the bill in congress.  However, it has a double meaning about the undocumented youth who have big hopes and dreams for a better future, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Kenia Calderon, a sophomore in management at Drake University, was one of the DREAMers speakers at the event. She is originally from El Salvador, and was 11 years old when she arrived in the United States. She was one of two DREAMers who graduated from Dowling Catholic High School. It wasn’t until her senior year that she started applying to colleges, but the problem was she didn’t have a social security number.

Calderon wanted to go to the University of Northern Iowa, but due to her immigration status, she was denied acceptance and set her sights on Drake. Private schools are easier for undocumented students to attend, she said.

At private universities, undocumented students are often treated like international students and faced with international fees, according to Educators for Fair Consideration.

Calderon is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

DACA is an immigration policy that allows certain illegal immigrants who entered before Jan. 15, 2007, as undocumented students to apply to college. President Obama issued an executive order to extend the year to 2010, allowing more undocumented students to apply.

Due to her legal status, Calderon couldn’t apply for FAFSA or any big scholarships without a social security number.

Hope is what motivated her and asking questions is what got her acceptance into Drake. Drake created a special grant for Calderon to be able to attend, making it easier for DREAMers.

“[There] needs to be a change in public schools to change policies to embrace undocumented students,” Calderon said.

Calderon started a petition at Drake where 10 percent of the student body signed for more undocumented student support on campus.

Jessica Maciel-Hernandez, who graduated in May 2014 and a Science Bound recipient, had talked to the director of the program her junior year in high school. Hernandez shared her legal status to the director of Science Bound, who then told her she had three years to graduate from high school to be accepted into the program because that would be the last year the program would accept undocumented students. Sharing her story is what got her a full ride.

“We are living proof that it’s possible,” Hernandez said.

Calderon reminded the audience that these are temporary solutions to a larger, long-term problem. She gave advice to the ISU student audience that education is a privilege and being able to advocate for others is a privilege as well.

“I live with fear that tomorrow they will discontinue it and I can’t work the way I work, go to school,” Calderon said.

Top picture by Danielle Ferguson/Iowa State Daily

Pictured Kenia Calderon

The Reporter:

My name is Berenice Liborio. I’m a sophomore at Iowa State University with a double major in Journalism and Spanish. I am a first generation student being the oldest of four other siblings. I’m the first in my family to graduate high school and attend a big university. My dream is to inspire other Latinos in pursuing an education and raising awareness about culture. 

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