On a Friday afternoon at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, Luis Navarette is busy sawing parts and wiring components to help build a robot. He’s part of the L.A. Streetbots, a robotics club that competes against other schools.
“It is just one of those things that I can play around with – machines, wiring something that I love,” he says. “It’s just something that captivates my intellectual curiosity.”
Navarette is a hard-working student. He’s one of the first to raise his hand in class, and one of the top seniors at Roosevelt. He has big hopes of continuing his education, though there is uncertainty due to his legal status in the United States.
Navarette is anxiously waiting to hear from colleges and thinking about the future. “My dream college is Stanford, which is here in California,” he says.
His parents brought him from Mexico when he was seven years old, and he struggled to adapt to life in the United States. Language was an issue for him, and he had to repeat the first grade
Even though he’s pulling straight A’s now, school wasn’t always easy for him. He’s had a lot of tutoring over the years and went to summer school. Because of his immigration status, he’s had a somewhat pessimistic view of his future.
For the first two years of high school, Navarette says he didn’t really think of continuing his education. “I just internalized the fact that because I am undocumented, college isn’t for me,” he said. Then he met some competitive students and joined extracurricular activities. He says clubs like the robotics club changed his perspective and motivated him.
Even now that he’s focused on his education, Navarette worries that with the current administration, his immigration status will hold him back. “The current presidency exacerbates my worst fears,” he says. “Maybe my whole family could be deported, or I could be denied an education just based on the fact that I am undocumented,” he says.
Teresa Sutuc, a college guidance counselor Roosevelt’s Math, Science and Technology Magnet, helps seniors with their college applications. She says that for undocumented students, including those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, paying for college is another issue. DACA allows some young people who were brought to the United States as children to work and go to school without fear of deportation. The Trump Administration has moved to end DACA, but courts have so far upheld its legality.
“Any student can get into college,” she says, but “undocumented students have to make sure that they understand not everything will be covered.” She says many students start doubting whether they should even go to college, because of the money required.
Maria Perez, whose parents brought her to United States when she was just 1-year-old, understands that stress and worry. She’s now a freshman at California State University, Los Angeles, where she receives financial aid. A year ago, she didn’t know if she would be able to go on to pursue an education.
“My first thought when entering senior year was ‘Will I be able to go to college, because I’m first generation?’” recalls Perez, who comes from a family of six. “Money was a very big consideration. I was thinking, ‘Am I going to even get accepted based on my citizenship status?’”
She says her mom told her in middle school that she might not be able to go to college because she was not a citizen. Qualifying for DACA helped motivate her to try to go to college.
“I kept that in mind, and I had to fulfill my parents’ dream of me accomplishing something and being someone in life and not go through their struggles,” she says.
Given the threat of DACA ending, Perez and her family worry that their dreams of her having a better life might be crushed. “I would think to myself that [it] will become an even harder obstacle I have to overcome,” she says.
At the Dreamer Center at Cal State LA, students sit on couches doing homework and eating instant noodles. Center Director Hemic Preciado is usually smiling and says he’s always ready to help.
“Students use the space as a home away from home,” Preciado says.
The Dreamer Center is where students go for questions and concerns about their immigration status and how it affects their college life. The center offers a monthly immigration clinic, where it brings in attorneys to help students with DACA paperwork and also advise them about whether there are pathways to citizenship for them or their families.
Due to the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, many students wonder if they’ll be able to stay in college. Preciado is trying to do what he can.
“I remind students for a number of years that was no financial aid for undocumented students. For a number of years there was no DACA, and we still had undocumented students in college with no financial aid, without the legal ability to work,” says Preciado.
The Dreamer Center is trying to make sure current students, like Maria Perez, stick around, and future students, like high school senior Luis Navarrete, don’t give up.
Perez says that while things seem good now, there is always a chance DACA could be terminated, which makes her nervous about her future.
“I hope to graduate in the four years and accomplish everything I’ve set my mind to,” says Perez. “I plan to major in criminal justice. I definitely want to finish and perhaps go for a higher [degree] if I can.. I just have to set my mind to it and be sure about it.”