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Undocumented Saint Mary’s student speaks out

Kaitlyn Rabach | Wednesday, August 28, 2013

 

For at least the last five years, Saint Mary’s College President Carol Ann Mooney adopted a policy of admitting and enrolling undocumented students, Vice President for Enrollment Management Mona Bowe said.

“Saint Mary’s College does not discriminate on the basis of country of origin, so if a student meets the academic requirements for admission, she would be admitted to the College,” Bowe said. “We believe it is in keeping with Catholic social justice teaching and legacy of the Sisters of Holy Cross that Saint Mary’s admits undocumented students.”

A student’s status as undocumented would be confidential information and is protected under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Bowe said. 

“A student’s status as undocumented is confidential,” Bowe said. “However, some students might self-identify as undocumented. This may be to share her story with the College population and/or the media as a way to show the human side of the immigration issue. This would be her decision.”

For junior Dara Marquez, a chemical engineering major, the decision to reveal her status as an undocumented immigrant on campus has allowed her to grow both academically and spiritually.

Marquez, originally from Mexico but now hailing from Elkhart, Ind., is now protected under “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA), a program unveiled by President Obama in 2012 giving young undocumented immigrants the right to remain here legally and work for at least two years, provided they are qualified applicants.

“Right now I have DACA status,” Marquez said. “Meaning, I have temporary legal status in the United States and have received a temporary social security number to work. Immigration knows I am here, so now I can talk about my status without fear.”

She said she attained DACA status while attending Saint Mary’s but was admitted and enrolled as an undocumented student. 

“Saint Mary’s was really a blessing in disguise for me,” Marquez said. “I didn’t think I would be able to come here because of the cost. I was originally planning on going to a state school because they tend to be cheaper, but with law changes my senior year of high school, public universities were getting more expensive for undocumented students and an administrator at my high school put Saint Mary’s on my radar.” 

When she first came to Saint Mary’s, Marquez said she was scared to admit her status as an undocumented immigrant to her admissions counselor. She said she is thankful she can discuss her status with College administrators, and for the financial assistance offered to her by the College.

“When my admissions counselor called about whether I was planning on enrolling or not, I had to tell her about my situation, including the financial situation of my undocumented family,” Marquez said. “I will always remember her saying on the phone, ‘Nothing is impossible. We will make it work.’ And they did. They were very helpful in finding me scholarships and other types of aid not related to the government.”

Bowe said undocumented students are not eligible for federal or state government aid, though no government regulations forbid private funding. As a private institution, Saint Mary’s is free to determine independently how to distribute its financial aid. 

“Saint Mary’s awards financial aid for all students based on the student’s individual financial need and/or academic merit, under one single policy,” Bowe said. “Awarding less aid to one student does not mean additional aid for a different student, therefore, awarding aid to undocumented students does not take Saint Mary’s dollars away from other students.”

Being a part of an undocumented family means the family does not enjoy a stable income, Marquez said. It can be difficult to know your parents have a job today but may not have one tomorrow, she said.

“Right now, I tell myself my parents are physically working every day for my education and I am working mentally,” Marquez said. “Mentally, so one day I can say both my parents and I have worked hard enough for me to get my diploma and find a job that will not only support my family, but also one I am passionate about.” 

Marquez said she is grateful that her Saint Mary’s education gave her the resources and opportunities to choose her own future. 

“My dad came to the United States first, and my mom and I immigrated one year later,” Marquez said. “My mom and I were separated for three months and when she got to Indiana I could not wait to show her our fridge full of the different soda pop flavors. Unlike in Mexico, she could choose from a variety of flavors. All I want is for my family to be able to choose again — to have the resources to choose a sustainable life.” 

Marquez said the campus community has overwhelmingly embraced her, even though she is an undocumented immigrant. 

“I have never felt afraid to reveal my status on this campus,” Marquez said. “It is a very welcoming community, and different departments like Campus Ministry and the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership have made it a point to have panels and other types of dialogue about immigration as an issue. This has allowed students to put a human face to the issue and I believe is one of the main reasons I have felt so welcomed into this community.” 

Marquez maintains a high profile on campus because she is a staunch advocate of immigration reform. Several Saint Mary’s alumnae also have fought actively for the increased rights of undocumented immigrants.

Melody Alzarado, a 2012 graduate of the College who is originally from Nicaragua, worked on immigration issues during her time at Saint Mary’s with La Fuerza, a club that promotes Latin-American culture on campus. She said her passion for immigration issues grew during her time at Saint Mary’s, inspiring her to work with community development projects around the issue.

“I worked a lot with undocumented students and can honestly say these students are some of the strongest women I have ever encountered,” Alzarado said. “They are driven individuals and I am grateful Saint Mary’s does not discriminate against them based on their status. I think any school can benefit from these students and if they do not admit students based on their status they are missing out on a huge pool of strong, dedicated students.” 

Novice Sr. Jessica Brock, currently residing at the International Novitiate at Saint Mary’s and the recipient of a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Law and Master of Law degrees, has worked to promote awareness of immigration issues at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame and Holy Cross College. With her work, Brock has worked directly with undocumented students at Saint Mary’s. 

“My first impression is to be in awe of how strong the undocumented women at Saint Mary’s are,” Brock said. “Just like any other talented students, these women want the same thing out of a Saint Mary’s education, and I am absolutely inspired by their strength. They all have shown an incredible amount of maturity. Many of them are facing extreme financial challenges with financing their education and I have never heard them complain. 

“I can without a doubt say they are some of the greatest leaders on campus.”

Brock, Alzarado and Marquez said in order to increase discussion about the challenges facing undocumented students, the focus should be on creating dialogue and “getting more people at the table.” The women said increasing dialogue is necessary in order to break down misconceptions and to create an open-minded, welcoming community.

“It is about putting a face to the issue,” Marquez. “Once people realize [the issue] is more than politics and is actually about human dignity, the conversation changes”

Marquez said the nation will become stronger if conversation about immigration issues, specifically those issues concerning undocumented students, continues to grow.

“In President Obama’s first State of the Union address, he talked about the need for our country to be more competitive and innovative,” Marquez said. “Saint Mary’s has allowed me to stimulate my mind, but everyone needs this right [to education]. Everyone should be able to contribute to this dream.”