New Book Exposes Undocumented Students' Struggles; Undocumented University of California, Los Angeles Students Share Their Struggles to Help Advance the DREAM Act

Article excerpt

When Mario Escobar was getting a double major in Chicano studies and Spanish literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, money was so tight he often went to class hungry and wore clothes from Goodwill that didn't quite fit. As an undocumented student, Escobar wasn't eligible for financial aid or loans.

Escobar, who as a child fought in El Salvador's brutal civil war where his father, grandmother and cousins were killed, is no stranger to hardship. He says getting an education was worth the sacrifices he made.

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"My motto was, 'I can lick the floor for the rest of my life, or I can lick it now,'" he says.

Escobar is no longer struggling like before. In 2007, Escobar received political asylum, and now he's on a full scholarship at Arizona State University where he's getting a Ph.D. in literature.

Escobar's story, along with those of seven other undocumented students, is featured in a book put out by the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, Underground Undergrads. It also has information about legislative issues affecting undocumented students such as California's Assembly Bill 540, which offers high school graduates instate tuition, and the Federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a pathway to citizenship for many college students.

"To our knowledge, it's the only book in the country about undocumented students, by undocumented students," says Kent Wong, a professor at UCLA, who taught the class, "Immigration Rights, Labor and Higher Education," that produced the book. Wong, who has been at the university for 18 years, says he and his colleagues noticed more undocumented students in their classes since the passage of AB 540. These students' stories and their desire to get an education moved Wong. He partnered with a support group for undocumented students, IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success) that Escobar co-founded, to work on the book.

Matias Ramos, a leader in IDEAS whose story is in the book, says Underground Undergrads shows the undocumented students' humanity and will help the DREAM Act to pass. The bill has never come up for a vote in Congress, but its Senate sponsor, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., intends to try again this spring.

The legislation would allow many undocumented students to adjust to conditional permanent resident status, which could make them eligible for in-state tuition. It would apply to young people who have rived in the United States for at least five years and earned a high school diploma or GED. They could eventually seek permanent residence if they complete at least two years in college or in the military. …