Undocumented Education

Citizenship testWhile living in fear of deportation to a foreign land has subsided for undocumented immigrants who have applied for and received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), fulfilling the American dream can still be a daunting and elusive task for these young people. It’s this predicament that’s outlined in the documentary film “A Dream Deferred,” which tells the story of three undocumented students at Harvard University.

“A Dream Deferred” is a 40-minute film collaboration of two Harvard students who came together as dormitory roommates in their freshman year at the Ivy League institution. Student newspaper, The Crimson, reports filmmaker Alex Boota says he was “shocked” to learn Dario Guerrero-Meneses was undocumented. Identifying a compelling story, the two young men documented the stories of three Latin American immigrants.

Mexican-born Guerrero-Meneses didn’t find out about his undocumented status until he was 16. Enrolling in engineering classes at his local community college while still in high school, Guerrero-Meneses describes getting a phone call where he learns of problems in processing his paperwork. In a Washington Post editorial, Guerrero-Meneses recounts hearing his parents tell him, “Son, we overstayed our visa when you were three. You don’t have a social security number.”

In a story that pulls at the heart strings and has readers cheering for him in his underdog position, Guerrero-Meneses describes his longstanding desire—and expectation—that he would attend college. He tells of his heartbreak as his dream of attending the acclaimed Massachusetts Institute of Technology slipped away. He notes admission counselors were always sorry to deny him entry.

Harvard gatekeepers opened its hallowed halls by providing a full-ride scholarship paid through the school’s private endowment. As it turns out, undocumented immigrants in Harvard’s student population is significant, and the school’s endowment has been generous in its support of them. While the school doesn’t segment its undocumented students, activist students are working toward developing specialized services to serve the undocumented student population.

While the seemingly natural next step for smart and talented young people is enrollment at a college or university, holding DACA paperwork does nothing in terms of opening educational opportunities. For students from families with modest means, tuition and fees are often out of reach. And because public funds are typically only available to those who have a social security number, the opportunity to attend college is a dwindling proposition for DACA students.