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Strategies to help undocumented students acquire their education

Posted at 11:34 PM, May 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 02:34:12-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — "Being undocumented is something that impacts every part of a person's life," said Dr. Carolina Silva of Scholarships A-Z.

From how some people view you in society to what resources are available to you, or not, to pursue your education.

Silva, Executive Director of Scholarships A-Z, a non-profit advocate group for undocumented students.

"Students shouldn't be the ones to bring up the fact that they need access to resources, it should be coming from the educator."

Dr. Ruben Zecena, took part in a Scholarships A-Z workshop recently, where educators learned how they can work with undocumented students to be a better educational resource.

A report by the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration places about 450,000 undocumented students enrolled at universities across the country.

"I've been there and I know what it is," Dr. Zecena said.

Both he and Dr. Silva said they were once undocumented students themselves.

"I remember that coming out as undocumented is not a cute experience."

"Asking that very simple question: is this resource or service or scholarship open to undocumented students? If not, how can we change that," Dr. Silva said.

That lesson, just one for educators geared toward being an advocate for their students, regardless of their immigration status.

"The educator should be already familiar with the particular needs of undocumented students," Dr. Zecena said.

Enabling their education through inclusion, their status as undocumented student.

"Think of how their lives and their stories are empowering for the learning classroom and the learning community."

A valuable tool, he said, for educators who want to do more for all of their students.

"Attending the trainings with Scholarships A-Z has really helped to illustrate the importance of making sure that as an educator students build a sense of trust in you," Dr. Zecena said.

"Undocumented students have just the same right as other student to have a K-though-12 education."

Dr. Silva cites a Supreme Court ruling in 1982, Plyler vs. Doe, which states no public school can deny a grade-school education to any child because of their immigration status.

Dr. Zecena said part of the challenge is identifying yourself to educators who want to help.

"Yet, in order to demand resources, sometimes you do have to come out as undocumented," he said.

A positive cycle, Dr. Silva suggests, because the acquisition of an education could bring more people into the fold.

"Some of our folks go back into the education system which is awesome. Ruben, myself, we're both previously undocumented."