Her mother started packing their suitcases as little 4-year-old Marygrace watched by the door with her big brown eyes, curious as to what’s going on.
Today, Marygrace Ghio-Rodriguez stands tall and slim at 5 feet 6 with a sandy complexion. Her shoulder-length raven brown hair streams over her back. She gives off a full energy of confidence. Now 18, she majors in anthropology at the University of Arizona. As a native Peruvian, she speaks Spanish fluently.
Ghio-Rodriguez is not a U.S. citizen. She is part of the Dreamer generation, children whose parents brought them to the country when they were very young. Her parents still aren’t citizens, and her college hopes depend upon Obama administration rules that got her into UA — rules that are now up in the air under President Trump.
According to an American Immigration Council fact sheet, only about 65,000 out of roughly 1.2 million undocumented students graduate from high school, and many end up not going to college or pursuing their dreams. The official website for Department of Homeland Security states that for a student to be eligible for a DACA status, they must have came to the United States before the age of 16, have resided in the United States since June 2007 — and have not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, and do not post a threat to national security.
About 70 DACA students are enrolled at UA. The Arizona Republic reported 103 DACA students across all three state universities. States such as South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia all ban undocumented students from attending any state university or community colleges. Nationwide, 20 states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.
When she was 13, Ghio-Rodriguez found out she was an undocumented student.
“I had just gotten in a fight with another student in middle school,” she said, “I remember my mother sitting me down in the kitchen and telling me that I had to be wary of the people I am with and the trouble I cause because we were undocumented.”
Many students don’t find out that they are undocumented until they apply for a driver’s license or college, and learn they lack legal documents. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — or “DREAM Act” — helps provide a pathway to legal status of undocumented students who graduate from high school each year.
This gives them a chance to apply for a higher education as a lawful permanent resident. In June 2012, President Obama announced an executive order creating the DACA program, which grants certain undocumented immigrants lawful presence and a temporary work permit. “I was very discouraged about applying to college or even the ability to drive a car,” she said, “Once I got DACA, I was more enthusiastic about going to college.”
Although this gives students a path to go to college, they are not eligible for federal education grants. As a DACA student, Ghio-Rodriguez is fortunate enough to get in-state tuition because she has enough documentation to prove of her residency.
“Financial aid is not available for DACA or undocumented students. Undocumented students pay either out-of-state tuition or international student tuition,” she said. “Scholarships vary, but they are super competitive and we can only apply to those who don’t ask for any status or those that are for undocumented students.”
Robert McCune, 40, program coordinator for First Cats, a transitional program to assist incoming first-year students at UA, is an ally for undocumented students getting a chance to get a higher education.
“I think that they are more likely to be a contributing factor in society,” he said, “because if we limit their opportunities they can’t reach their full potential.”
McCune believes that the Dream Act is good for the country because of what the U.S. is trying to achieve.
“It’s the American dream that allows students to expand their educational experience,” he said, “There’s no downside to allowing students to stay here and go to school here and becoming a citizen.”
Many undocumented students have supporters like McCune who want them to have access to a higher education. Some have different views.
One of those people is Sergio Corona, a UA major in computer science and engineering.
“I believe that it’s the universities’ responsibility to turn in those who don’t have the right documents,” he said. “Undocumented people coming to get an education is good as long they are doing it the correct way, like paying for it like the rest of us. And if they want to get an education, who am I to deny them.”
Ghio-Rodriguez believes President Trump is a terrible man.
“I have friends from countries that he did the Muslim ban for, and he is an absolute monster,” she said, “besides the fact that he has been taunting the DACA and undocumented community for a long time. Thus, people aren’t sure if they should renew their DACA or go back to their country.”
Fatuma Shiwoko is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org