Ivy League Connection has sent hundreds of West Contra Costa Unified School District students to summer programs at Ivy League universities since 2005.
Magaly Rodriguez was one of the 41 students who participated in ILC this past summer, but she’s unique among her peers.
Rodriguez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was an infant, is not a U.S. citizen.
It’s a challenge that faces students throughout Richmond, barring them from certain programs and government aid, but ILC worked to ensure Rodriguez, a superb student, would still be able to visit premier universities.
To get Rodriguez to Brown University, ILC and university officials had to navigate the web of regulations that confront undocumented students. But they were also helped by a key new federal program.
“Magaly is a really bright student and she’s outgoing,” ILC administrator Don Gosney said. “It’s a pleasure to work with Magaly because she wants to succeed so much.”
Rodriguez came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was one year old. Her father installs glass and her mother cleans houses. But her parents long dreamed of giving their daughter a great education.
When Rodriguez was a sophomore at Kennedy High School, she applied to ILC. She wrote two essays, got her PSAT scores and transcripts reviewed, and went through an interview that had three panelists who asked her 10 questions. And then she applied to the Women in Leadership program at Brown University and was accepted. It appeared that she was set to study at Brown University for a summer with ILC scholarship.
But Gosney didn’t know Rodriguez was undocumented until he was contacted by Brown University.
“She had checked off something on her application saying that she was not an American citizen,” Gosney said, “and they needed the right kind of documentation that says she’s eligible to be enrolled in a university.”
At first, Brown University and Gosney thought that they needed a F-1 student visa for her. Gosney inquired about the F-1 visa and mistakenly thought that F-1 visas were issued by the Mexican Consulates instead of the U.S. State Department. He emailed three Mexican Consulates and never received replies.
Rodriguez said she thought she only needed legal documents to study abroad, not in another state.
After Gosney learned about Rodriguez’s status and talked to her, Rodriguez told him that she had something called DACA, and asked him if it would work.
DACA is the accronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a deportation reprieve policy created by President Obama’s Executive Action in 2012. The policy gives two year deportation deferrals to undocumented immigrants brought here as children, subject to renewal. With DACA, young immigrants like Rodriguez can work legally and have driver’s licenses.
On Nov. 20 the President issued another Executive Action that extended the period of DACA and work authorization from two years to three years.
“(My parents) have always been supportive of me. I’ve always told them that I want to reach more than a high school degree, and they were looking for ways they might be able to apply for me papers so that I can study,” Rodriguez said. “One that I qualified for was DACA.”
Gosney remembered that Rodriguez brought to him a big envelope documents. He had never seen DACA before, so he researched online. The pictures looked similar to what Rodriguez had. Gosney scanned the documents and sent them to Brown University. The school approved.
“That’s what made me so happy about her situation, that she does have clear sailing,” Gosney said. “She can apply for college. She can apply for scholarships. She can travel because she and her family took the time to get that document.”
Rodriguez made the trip in July and she spent two and half weeks at Brown University. She took classes and traveled when she had time. In her classes, Rodriguez learned about feminism, social justice, equality and leadership.
“(Before the program) I was very shy,” Rodriguez said. “My culture, especially towards women, you are very submissive. They don’t allow you to have that much saying.”
The program improved her public speaking and interpersonal communication with new people. It was a life changing experience.
“I learned how to be a leader, how to speak up and how to speak my mind,” Rodriguez said.
The trip to Brown University also helped Rodriguez decide to go to college.
“I thought that people like me had a low chance of graduating college without debt after more debt. Schools like Brown have a tremendous amount of financial aid and require you to pay very little,” Rodriguez wrote in her testimonial. “All I really need to do is ask, find and apply to as much help as I can. I really have nothing to lose.”
According to Gosney, five or six undocumented students applied to Ivy League Connection over the years. Despite their academic achievements, they were not able to participate because they didn’t have the papers — DACA didn’t exist at that time.
Gosney felt sorry for the students.
“We can talk about immigration in general terms and have a lot of opinions,” Gosney said, “but when they start being people, they start being having names and faces and personalities, you take a different position altogether. You want to make sure all these kids are taken care of.”
But DACA has never been a passage to citizenship. And as it was created by Obama’s Executive Action, it can also be reversed.
“The next president can say we are not gonna renew the DACA or now I have everybody on the list who’s illegal, guess what, I’m gonna deport everybody,” immigration attorney Veronica Granillo said. “It’s a risk. That’s a thing a lot of people don’t understand.”
Whether or not to apply for DACA is a decision people have to make for themselves.
“But what they should do is to be informed,” Granillo said. “Someone once told me that they thought if you have DACA, you renewed it at least three or four times, it automatically turns into citizenship. No. It does not.”
According to Krista Jann, Richmond High School’s college and career coordinator, many undocumented students at Richmond High are working on DACA or already have it.