For the third consecutive year the undocumented student advocacy club, Voices of Immigrants Demonstrating Achievement (V.I.D.A.) will be holding a dream graduation for undocumented students graduating from City College.
From an office the size of a cubicle in the Student Union, the small group of volunteers and advisors that comprise V.I.D.A, have been working since 2010 to provide Ocean Campus’ 500 or more undocumented students with scholarships, work permits, advice, and fellowship.
With only 2 full time workers, a staff of volunteers, and the smallest budget of any student council funded organization, they serve nearly 100 students, some 30 of whom are being honored on May 15 at 6:00 in the Diego Rivera Theater.
While there are a number of programs available to undocumented students, founders Gracia Hernandez and Latino Services Network counselor, Leticia Silva realized there was “nowhere (on campus) to help them get scholarships,” Hernandez said.
V.I.D.A’s mission is to offer assistance for greater accessibility of BOG Waivers, AB540 Status, Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, Medicare, and other programs. In addition to state and federal forms, V.I.D.A also advocates for on campus programs, such as scholarship access and fair treatment to on campus jobs.
While some 500 students at Ocean Campus have filled out the affidavits listing them as undocumented which allow them access to such programs, Silva believes there are more unwilling to out themselves.
“For many, filling out that form is the first time they have ever acknowledged their status on any kind of official document” Silva said.
One of the key functions of the program is providing a comfortable and private environment for undocumented students.
“… there is a place where if they have questions, if they don’t feel safe, they can come to a place open to everyone, where we’ll help in any way we can,” Silva said.
During V.I.D.A’s hours of operation, student volunteers like Martha Garcia and Christian Arevalo spend hours waiting to help anyone who might come through their door.
“I like helping people, you know?” Arevalo said. “I want to make students aware of the services available (on campus), like getting help with your taxes. There are all these scholarships that don’t advertise.”
Arevalo, a sociology major who has worked as a home care provider, hopes to work as a juvenile probation officer.
“I was able to relate as an immigrant with residency. I came here illegally and still consider myself an immigrant,” Arevalo said, who splits his time between V.I.D.A and Latino Services, dedicating more than 15 hours each week, ”it’s important to be around people who respect that part of your personality.”
Many of the students who donate their time to V.I.D.A have benefitted in the past from their help. Student Worker Martha Garcia came to City College after leaving the University of San Mateo. “This little thing stayed in my mind- there was a place at City College where I could get the help I needed, instead of this place where I didn’t feel supported. The very first day I came here, I went to V.I.D.A and everyone was super welcoming. I’ve been here ever since,” Garcia said.
Garcia recalls an eighteen year old undocumented immigrant from Nicaragua who came in hoping to benefit from City College’s child care programs, who V.I.D.A was able to help fill out a Board of Governors Waiver, allowing her to take classes at the school. “I just want them to know there’s a place they can feel welcome, and unafraid, where they can get the help they won’t get anywhere else” Garcia said.
Looking to the future, the staff hopes to expand their aid to the broader population of undocumented students at City College. “We want to reach out to Asians, Pacific Islanders, Africans. Undocumented does not only mean Latin American,” Silva said.
As VIDA nears its third Dream Graduation, the staff of VIDA hopes that immigrants and students alike will join them in honoring those who are graduating. “Students feel a lot of pride, they’re able to bring their parents to a more intimate graduation” Silva said.
The graduation is being held at the Diego Rivera Theater at 6:00 on May 15, and is open to anyone who wants to join them in honoring the achievements of City College’s undocumented students.