Tuesday, April 23

Struggling with noncitizen status

Hardships of being an undocumented immigrant force student to work long hours to finish school

They finally broke the news to her after 18 years.

Stephanie Solis’ parents had hoped to hold back for as long as any secret could stay hidden, but it was only a matter of time before they had to tell the fourth-year English student the truth.

Solis was not in the United States legally.

For Solis, who only spoke English and had little recollection of her native Philippines, the notion that she wasn’t legally an American shocked her.

“I don’t feel very Filipino,” Solis said. “I’m told I’m not an American. But the only thing that still rings true to me is the English language.”

Her youth so far had been American in so many ways.

In the living room, her father listened to Rush Limbaugh. In the kitchen, her mother read Us Weekly.

Perhaps the only foreign connection to the Philippines that could have been found in her home was the homemade avocado ice cream in the freezer.

Solis felt so betrayed by her parents for having kept her immigration status from her for so long that she moved out and set out on her own.

Solis remembers sitting at a bus stop roughly a year later watching the cars go by as she waited for the bus that would take her to the train that would whisk her to a job making cardboard boxes.

Her life had become one of compromises ““ commuting six hours a day on public transit because she couldn’t get a driver’s license and saving up to pay for school.

By 2005, Solis started at UCLA, but because of her immigration status, paying for school was a major burden. Undocumented students are ineligible for financial aid, scholarships and many other types of financial assistance to help pay the fees.

Instead, many undocumented students are forced to pick up odd jobs to pay for their education.

Solis, like many undocumented students, has taken an unusually long time to get her degree.

“I’m in a position where I can’t consistently go to school,” she said.

Forced to take time off from work between quarters of school, Solis has been in college on and off for the last six years.

“There is that inconsistency which removes me from the standard college experience. I don’t feel like I’m integrated into it. I drop in when I can, and I visit when I can afford to for a quarter, and I’m there for 3 months, and I leave,” Solis said.

“And by the time I come back, everybody who was at the same level with me and everybody that I knew has already moved on or has graduated. There is that sense that I’m not going to college with my group ““ with my peer group. I’m going to college just with myself because I am my only peer group because everyone else is moving along at normal speed.”

Due to her hectic and stressful schedule, she woke up at odd hours and slept very little.

But it was the smaller realities of being undocumented ““ such as trouble cashing checks and getting a library card ““ that really got to her.

“It is the subtle things that flick me on the forehead reminding me that there is something wrong with who I am,” Solis said.

With her graduation finally imminent, Solis feels uneasy about what’s to come.

Like many undocumented college graduates, Solis will have difficulty finding a job without proof of legal residence, despite her degree from a top undergraduate program.

“The irony about that is that there is a sense of wanting to continue to prolong being in college simply because once I’m out and I have my degree, there’s nothing that I can really do with it.”

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