Why CSUEB needs to take more action: My experience as an undocumented student


Kenzi Hilario in a classroom.

Kenzi Hilario,

Cal State East Bay is a campus that claims to be an inclusive university that serves its diverse population of students. But as an undocumented immigrant, I feel underserved. As graduation nears, I am disappointed that the school still does not have an undocumented resource center to support its population of Dreamers and undocumented students. 

When I graduated from high school in 2013, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was enacted to provide deportation protection and a social security number for undocumented youth who were brought into the United States at a young age. People frequently asked and assumed that I am a DACA recipient, but I’m not. My application was denied because I spent two years of high school in the Philippines and DACA requires continuous residency in the United States. 

Despite the denial of my DACA application, I had hope because the California Dream Act allows undocumented students to receive state financial aid. Students that were eligible for the California Dream Act were labeled as AB540 students.

Since someone from financial aid suggested I was considered an AB540 student, I came to this campus with the impression that I was eligible for California grants. I thought my whole tuition would be covered and was relieved that I could actually afford to go to school. I was wrong. After multiple emails and calls to the Financial Aid office, I was finally told that I am ineligible for any financial aid because I didn’t meet the requirement of completing three years of high school in California. I can’t get loans, I can’t get grants and I can’t get financial aid. I was mortified and left the office crying.

That was a moment I will never forget.

I remember texting my dad because I was worried about how I would pay for school and he told me not to lose hope. One year later, he passed away.

Since my father was the sole financial provider for my family, my mom and I had to find jobs that were willing to pay us under-the-table. These were often odd jobs that mistreated and took advantage of our immigration status. There were many times we didn’t have enough to pay for my tuition. At one point, I even had to take a quarter off to save up money working the overnight shift as a caregiver.

Despite all these obstacles, I searched for help on campus. During my junior year, CSUEB hosted its first event for undocumented students called “Dreamer Day.”

I was introduced to a small group of volunteers, including Melissa Cervantes, GANAS program coordinator and Diana Balgas, executive director of the Transfer Student Program, who are two of the main faculty members that volunteer and advocate for equality. Since then, the undocu-resources team have continued to organize events for Dreamers.

In 2017, an undocumented resource page was launched on the university website. The page provides updates on DACA, referrals to immigrant organizations within the Bay Area and a list of faculty allies and their contact information.

However, CSU East Bay still has a long way to go. According to Cervantes and Balgas, a resolution was set in place for the president at the time in 2015, asking for a private physical space for undocumented students and a main coordinator to facilitate the center. But as of now, there’s still no action or guarantee being made by President Morishita. 

There are plans to reconfigure the rooms in the Old and New University Union to provide more community space, but this won’t be happening anytime soon and there’s still no guarantee that one of these spaces will be set aside for a Dreamer resource center.

“While we could be allies and advocate for them, it really needs to be the student voice that needs to be heard for change to happen,” Cervantes said.

With our current political climate, it is imperative for CSU East Bay to take action and make undocumented students a priority. I am sharing my story because I don’t want the future generation of undocumented students to come to this campus feeling alone and unwanted. They should be invited into a sanctuary space where they can be informed of what resources are available to them and feel enough support to excel in their education.

If our campus is not working towards a proper resource center for undocumented students, does CSUEB really stand with Dreamers?