Chapter 2: Student Stories

Student Stories

Ashley Rivas-Triana

College wasn't an option for Ashley Rivas-Triana at the end of her high school career. Counselors could not help her circumvent bans on undocumented students at Georgia public universities. Her future's uncertainty was delayed when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allowed her and her older sister to remain in the United States after her family's petition for residency was rejected. But without access to financial aid she is unable to pursue higher education outside of Freedom University, which provides tuition-free programs to undocumented students in Georgia.

Blanca Villagomez

Blanca Villagomez is a fifth-year sociology student and the retention chair of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, or IDEAS, UCLA's support and advocacy group for undocumented students. Her job is to inform students in IDEAS about jobs, research opportunities and other resources available to them. She does not only want to help retain students, she said, she wants them to excel.
Villagomez's own experience at UCLA has been bittersweet. She has struggled to feel welcome at an institution that has sometimes failed to help her when she needed it most. She had to withdraw for three quarters due to a lack of financial aid before the California Dream Act, but came back to UCLA and found her place in the undocumented student community. She hopes to be able to convince UCLA that undocumented students need their own retention center on campus.

Cristian De Nova

Cristian De Nova is the internal advocacy chair of IDEAS. His family emigrated from Mexico City in 2001 so his parents could find work; they have both been seriously injured at their jobs in factories, compromising their ability to work and throwing his family's future into even greater uncertainty. De Nova has always been passionate about and gifted at science. He is a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student and hopes to eventually work as an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization.

Susana Ramirez

Susana Ramirez arrived permanently in the United States from Colombia when she was five years old. She followed her father, who came to the country in search of work. Ramirez remembers feelings of persecution and an innate fear of the police. She recalls family parties with a strict curfew of 10 PM so as not to not draw attention from the police. Ramirez hopes to eventually attend a four year college.

Jennifer Veliz

Jennifer Veliz is a first-year student at the University of Georgia and a tutor at U-LEAD, a community based organization that assists low-income and undocumented students with their studies. Veliz arrived to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2007 in order to escape the violence that persisted in her home country. Through her mother's marriage, she was able to receive residency. Veliz returned to U-LEAD in order to pay back the program for providing her with help during her time as a high school student. She credits the help she obtained there as crucial to her efforts to go college.

Sandra Gallegos

Sandra Gallegos moved to California in an attempt to establish residency so she could apply to her dream school, UC Berkeley, and benefit from in-state tuition after graduating high school in 2007. The high cost of living and distance from her family caused her to move back to Georgia, where her family had moved to from California in her junior year of high school because of affordable housing. Georgia's ban on undocumented students at public colleges has left Gallegos with little prospects in pursuing higher education outside Freedom University.

Zulley Huaman

Zulley Huaman was 4 when her mother was detained by immigration authorities. After visiting her mother in the detention center, Huaman's grandmother, her guardian at the time, was also detained. Though an American citizen, she spent the latter half of her childhood and early adolescence in Peru, before returning to graduate from an American high school. She hopes to attend a four-year university.