Undocumented students continue to face discrimination, a look at the way forward

Protesters stand outside MD Anderson library holding up various signs advocating for undocumented students

Student organizations in 2016 rallying to raise awareness for the challenges undocumented students face. | Jasmine Davis/The Cougar

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund holds a high reputation amongst Hispanic students, and justly so. Their website proudly notes the over $730 million they’ve given out in scholarships over the years. But despite their charitable efforts, they consistently exclude one group: undocumented students.

To be eligible to apply for their scholar program, you must be “of Hispanic heritage” but they also require that you are either in the country as a full U.S. citizen, permanent resident or here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

It is important to note that since only one-third of undocumented students are covered under the DACA program, this set of requirements excludes a substantial amount of students from even being considered for the program.

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s choice to exclude this particular community of students might come as a surprise. After all, these students are no less Hispanic than any other applicant; their immigration status shouldn’t change anything.

This is a perfect example of how deep-rooted the dehumanization against undocumented students is. Sometimes, discrimination against these students can be just as harsh from members of their own community. 

In academic spaces, this discrimination can range from not having the ability to obtain various forms of financial aid to being automatically rejected from potential opportunities.

These students are rejected not based on merit or any other academic factor, but instead miss out on potentially life-changing opportunities based on something they cannot control. 

It’s important to remember that even though the majority of undocumented college students are Hispanic, not all of them are. Currently, around 27% of undocumented college students are Asian and 13% are Black.

Something that often goes unacknowledged is the intersectionality of being both Black and undocumented. The experiences of Black undocumented students must be acknowledged as their experiences will greatly differ from other undocumented students who aren’t Black.

That being said, providing visibility to all undocumented students and people, no matter their race, should be the goal. “Undocumented” doesn’t look one way, but the difficulties faced by these individuals unites them in a unique fashion.

It is a difficult task to properly encapsulate the whole plight of undocumented people. No amount of space will ever be truly enough to showcase the enormous hardships thrust upon these individuals by the systems united against them.

The greatest weapon undocumented people have to wield against the systemic injustices they constantly face is none other than their life. Despite the circumstances thrust upon them, undocumented people continue to fight back by persevering and living their lives to the fullest.

The spaces that undocumented students occupy were not built with them in mind. Those spaces, by nature, will almost always resort to diminishing and excluding them as much as they can. If we want to truly help undocumented students, we need to actively resist the push to exclude them.

National discourse surrounding undocumented individuals frequently seeks to discredit them by questioning their existence and their way of living. Questions like “Why didn’t they come here legally?” are commonly used to dehumanize them and ignore their pain.

But if you truly choose to dig deep and try to understand them, you will find that many of these people so frequently maligned are actually individuals you should admire. Living and engaging in spaces that do not want you or make it difficult for you to succeed is a brave act.

“When I used to do speech and debate competitions in high school, I used to recite a poem that I found on YouTube. That poem meant so much to younger me as I found it to be a touching and accurate piece on being undocumented,” said an undocumented UH student who chose not to disclose their name. 

The poem they’re referring to is “UndocuJoy: A Love Letter to My Undocumented People,” by Yosimar Reyes. In it, Reyes candidly professes his love for his fellow undocumented people, saying:

“I love my undocumented people because being undocumented is not political, it’s not physical, it is a condition keeping us from smiling. But look at us: thriving.”

The perspective shared by Reyes is similar to a statement made by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his 1982 Nobel lecture. When talking about his home country in Latin America and the constant struggles they face, he said:

In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.” 

To oppression, undocumented people respond with their lives, and undocumented students do so through education. An “undocumented”  and “un-American” life brings new meaning to the word perseverance. 

At the end of the day, however, undocumented people are not defined by their status. Rather they’re defined by their strength. This strength allows them to prevail and craft meaninful lives despite immense challenges.

This strength is something that shouldn’t be looked down on or pushed to the side. Undocumented people deserve to be seen as fully human. Daring to live in a world that doesn’t believe fully in your humanity is worthy of praise, and we would do well to not forget that.

Jose Acuna Cruz is an English freshman who can be reached at
[email protected]

Leave a Comment