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Asian American Undocumented Students Get Boost

Asian Americans aren’t always the stereotypical whiz kids who mess up the curve in math.

Sometimes they make up a school’s undocumented students, a group that is far more diverse than anyone thinks.

And if there’s something more typical than not, most of the students are struggling financially just to stay in school.

They are students like Paul, a senior at one of the 10 UC campuses.

He’s just a “regular” student. Not an activist. So he’s not as bold as some of the out-front DREAMERS who will gladly give out their names as if to tempt fate and dare deportation.

Paul told me he still fears it.

“Yeah it crosses my mind a couple of times a month,” he told me over the phone. “If I were to come across the path of ICE or be detained by police, deportation might be a strong possibility.”

Paul isn’t his real name, but I’ve verified him as a UC student and DREAM loan recipient.

As a student qualified for DACA, he was able to obtain a driver’s license.

But his legal status doesn’t give him access to much of the public or private loans available for college.

It makes UC’s Dream Loan program a real life line.

Born in India, Paul came with his family to the U.S. as a small boy. His parents had work visas and then overstayed.

The only way of life he knows is as a suburban Californian where he was weaned on American pop culture. His career goal? He wants to write for TV.

His parents have since returned to India on their own. But Paul remains, on his own.

He told me he couldn’t have stayed at a top UC without the Dream Loan program.

He received a $4,000 DREAM Loan when the program made its opening round of funding.

“It helped out tremendously; I didn’t have to work as much,” Paul said in our phone conversation. “The financial pressure decreased a little bit … any addition is welcome.”

System-wide, the UC program was set to expire this coming June.

But last week, UC President Janet Napolitano proposed an extension that would earmark $8.4 million a year through the 2018-19 academic year for undocumented student support across UC’s 10 campuses.

The funding will be distributed between the DREAM Loan Program, which will get $5 million per year for at least three years. The program makes loans currently around 4.29 percent, which students pay back into the DREAM Loan fund.

About $2.5 million a year will go to fund support staff and textbooks and pay for graduate and undergraduate fellowships.

Paul said he has taken advantage of it all.

But he saves the high praise for the support programs that have made a difference in his life by giving him a sense of belonging.

“You’re no longer excluded from something,” Paul gave as the reason the program has been valuable. “To have that stigma gone is everything. There’s people who severely need it. But more in a psychological way. It’s very uplifting. You’re included in eligibility. It’s not another barrier for you.”

It’s an approach worth noting. First, note they are not “illegal.” They are human beings caught in a political process. They lack documents.

As educators, when you think of an undocumented student, you should want to help them get all the documents they need, including that diploma.

Don’t shun them or abandon them. Or use the threat of deportation to induce fear that forces them into the shadows. That’s cruel.

There’s no need to deport. Educators don’t deport. They educate.

The undocumented represent the future. And there’s an opportunity to provide them the support they need to become  productive human beings in our global society. Walls don’t make sense. From liberals to free-market conservatives.

Educators should open minds and provide support.

“That’s where I’ve gotten a lot of help,” Paul told me about UC’s programs for the undocumented. “There’s an infrastructure here to help. That’s what saved me.”

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes on race, society and politic for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund at

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