“Place your right hand over your heart,” said Selena’s teacher. She looked around as her 4th grade classmates followed the teacher’s order. “Ready, begin!”
Selena gazed at the room around her as each student began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This is when Selena realized she doesn’t belong. This is when Selena first realized that she is an immigrant.
“I never felt more out of place than that moment,” said Selena Rosa, a 21-year-old College of the Canyons student. “Everyone else recited it perfectly.”
Selena (name changed for her protection) is one of an estimated 40,000 undocumented students attending California’s higher education system. Having been born in the city of Piura in Peru, she not only had to adapt to a new language, but also a new culture.
“There’s less emphasis on family here than in Peru from what I experienced. Back in my home country, a large part of my family lived close by. Uncles and aunts lived close by, so every weekend we would meet at one of their houses to eat lunch and enjoy each other’s company,” she said.
“Over here, it’s just my parents and I.”
When Selena first enrolled in school in California, she had to catch up on nine years of learning English so she wouldn’t fall behind.
“As a 9-year-old, it was a little easier for me to learn English than if I tried learning it now,” said Selena. “I had help from friends, teachers, and even television.”
But Selena had the most help from someone she considers her best friend and role model: her own mother.
“No relationship I have with anyone else comes close to the one I have with my mom,” Selena said. “We helped each other overcome so many obstacles together.”
Selena’s mother, Martha, doesn’t speak English nearly as well as Selena does. But she works as a babysitter when she can to help pay for Selena’s education.
“It’s important to me that Selena finishes COC and transfers over to get a degree,” Martha said.
With all of that said, Martha continues to make sure that Selena never forgets where she came from.
“I keep her in contact with her uncles in Peru through FaceTime,” Martha said.
Selena is not the only one with a story like this. There are thousands in her same footsteps that have conquered these problems in their own way.
When an undocumented student applies for college, the information they write inside their application is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERVA). FERVA protects the privacy of student education records, and applies to all schools that receive funds from the U.S Department of Education, including College of the Canyons. Parents or students above the age of 18 are allowed certain rights regarding their education records, including the right to inspect and review the education record maintained by their school, according to the U.S Department of Education.
While some may believe that undocumented students are expected to pay higher tuition fees, these students at College of the Canyons can qualify as an AB540 student if they meet several requirements, according to the California Student Aid Commission. Qualifying as an AB540 student allows you to avoid paying nonresident tuition rates. To do this, you need to have attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated from high school, got a GED, or pass the California High School Proficiency Test, and complete an affidavit saying you have, or will file for legal immigration status.
Once qualified as an AB540 student, students are then eligible for scholarships, state financial aid and the Board of Governors Fee Waiver (BOG waiver) thanks to the “California Dream Act” passed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. AB540 students can also receive assistance from programs like Extended Opportunities Programs and Services (EOPS) if they meet the requirements, according to College of the Canyons. EOPS provides programs aimed to assist students in completing community college and help support them alongside the resources available for every other student according to the EOPS web page.
Alongside the presence of immigrant students at College of the Canyons are international students attending the college through the International Services and Programs (ISP) department. There are more than 100 students this year, with 37 students joining this semester, according to a newsletter from the department. The students represent 45 countries and are temporarily living the same experience that Selena Rosa has lived long ago.
Today, Selena is in her second year studying at College of the Canyons. She hopes to transfer and get her degree in Psychology where she wants to one day work as a counselor for kids in high school.