Navigating Higher Education Opportunities Series #4: The Waiting Period and Unexpected Setbacks

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By VIVIANA

Waiting Patiently: The story of a student waiting on the arrival of a green card in order to enroll at a university.

Senior year of high school is such an exciting time! It’s when students become adults and start putting everything into place in order to smoothly transition into a university after graduation. I had taken AP classes, held good grades consistently, was involved in sports in which I was awarded a small scholarship, was in AVID (a college readiness program for students), and had applied to a few universities. My plan of going directly to a university was set and I was ready. I can still hear my English teacher as she said to me, “You are such a bright student, you will do so well at the university.” Unfortunately my plan to attend a university was put on hold. Little did I know that I had an obstacle that would keep me from enrolling with my fellow classmates. That obstacle was that I was undocumented. My parents had not told me about it because they did not think I needed to know at the time.

When I was 4, I was brought to this country and the legalization process was started with an immigration lawyer in San Diego, so my parents felt they had done things the correct way. My father worked to provide for us and my mother raised my siblings and I, as well as worked as the neighborhood house cleaner. One summer when I was about 7, we finally went back to Mexico on vacation to visit our grandparents, but when we tried to re-enter, we were not able to. It turns out that the lawyer my father had hired did not file the documentation properly for my siblings and me and had only done it correctly for my mother. The documents he had given my dad were not valid because the lawyer had failed to complete and send in the required documents for us. My father was a laborer and did not know anything about the process and simply trusted his lawyer fully.

So we were left in Tijuana in a house full of strangers until my father could gather the money needed to pay a coyote to bring us back to the U.S. Once we were back he started the process again with a different lawyer because the previous one had closed his office and my father could not locate him. This time the process was quite a bit more complicated and the waiting period was going to be extensive. I was not going to get my permanent resident card until I turned 20.

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 2.40.18 PMSo fast forward to senior year, and although I was allowed to be in the country and had a social security number, I was still considered a person without a legal immigration status, and therefore unable to enroll at the university. When that reality set in I was distraught, but I still wanted to continue my education. I began to seek help from my school counselor and some trusted teachers but was told repeatedly that there was nothing I could do. I also walked over to a neighbor’s house because she worked at a university and asked her if there was anyway I could enroll. I showed her my report card, my social security card and my scholarship letter. She told me that my social was not valid for enrollment because it said “NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT.”

My parents had only finished elementary level education in Mexico, and had no knowledge of the school system here in the U.S., so they were unable to provide me with any guidance. My mom said to me “Ya te graduaste de la escuela, ponte a trabajar en un trabajo bueno.” So I worked. I worked at jobs where they did not ask for a green card.

Two years after graduating, at the end of Fall, I finally got a work permit. By then enrollment was closed for the current school year at the local university, so I applied to a community college for the upcoming Spring semester. The plan was to transfer to the university the following semester. I was so excited and relieved because my dream of continuing my education was finally coming true. Then, that November, my father passed away of a sudden heart attack. Not only was it the worst time because I lost one of the most important people in my life, but also because the person that petitioned for my legal residency was now gone, making my legalization process stop on its tracks. I consulted with a couple of lawyers and they all said I had to start the process again and have my mother petition for my siblings and me. A process that would again be very lengthy.

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 2.48.00 PMMy work permit was only good for 6 months so it expired before I could enroll at the university. I went to the counseling office at the college to ask for guidance and was told that I could not transfer if my work permit expires. So I changed my plan, and decided to stay at the community college to get my AA degree and once I received my green card I would transfer to a university to obtain my Bachelor’s degree. It ended up being a longer waiting period than I expected. After getting my AA degree and an additional 4 certifications, and spending thousands of dollars on immigration fees, I finally received my green card, 15 years after graduation.

Finally it’s here.

When I opened that envelope I cried and then immediately enrolled back into school to accomplish my goal of getting a Bachelor’s degree. I graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from a California State University during Spring of 2017, and will be applying for a PhD program this Fall. During my time at the university, I heard some similar stories of people who were also delayed due to misinformation. It is because of my own struggles, that I now am dedicated to help share resources and spread information of programs available to undocumented students, their families, and the school personnel that work directly with them. It is so important that accurate information is provided to students and that school personnel stay updated on immigration laws as they change. Receiving accurate information is life changing for people who are in situations similar to mine.

Until recently, I was not aware of all the programs and scholarships available to undocumented students, especially here in the state of California. I was still under the impression that you could not enroll without a valid social security number. Looking back I wish I would have continued to ask questions and that is why I wanted to share my story. I hope that it can help someone realize that even with obstacles you can still reach your goals. Never stop asking questions and never give up. Continue to seek help and information no matter how many doors get shut, and always do your research because programs are being continuously developed and laws change.


Many thanks to Elspeth Michaels for her logo design for the Navigating Higher Education Opportunity Series. To see more of her work, check out her website here.

With support from UndocuScholars at the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at UCLA, the Navigating Higher Education Opportunities Series commissions undocumented students and young adults to write blog posts with helpful advice and information about applying to and navigating college as an undocumented student. Please follow UndocuScholars’ social media on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to learn about their latest projects. And stay tuned for our second series with UndocuScholars, Spotlight Series on College Presidents!

Don’t forget to visit our website http://www.MyUndocumentedLife.org from your computer (not just mobile phone) so you can have access to the wide range of resources we provide. Be sure to subscribe (it’s free) for up-to-date information and resources for undocumented immigrants. You can subscribe by entering your e-mail address on this form.


Viviana is the first person in her family to ever attend a University. Her goal is to obtain her PhD and become a professor who makes an impact by helping minorities attain their educational goals. Viviana believes that having a diverse faculty will increase the diversity in the classrooms and also increase the rate of graduating minorities. She is looking forward to mentoring and helping undocumented students.



Categories: Life After High School, Navigating College, Navigating High School

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