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Undocumented student takes action on immigration

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Students at Texas State are working with organizations to raise awareness about undocumented students. One student, in particular, stands out.

Yunuen Alvarado, mass communication sophomore, is working to make a difference for undocumented students.

Alvarado is an outspoken undocumented student, who serves as the president of the Underrepresented Student Advisory Council, vice president of the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment and works closely with the immigrant community in Austin.

Alvarado and her mother lived in Alabama until 2011 when the state proposed passing a new immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, which put them at the risk of deportation if a police officer stopped them and asked for their citizenship papers.

Out of fear of being deported, Alvarado said she and her mother packed their things and made a one-way trip to Texas, stopping only for gas. Once in Texas, their struggle continued.

“We lived below the line of poverty. We didn’t have food to eat sometimes; we slept on the floor on top of a single sheet. We were cold,” Alvarado said. “The place where we were staying had holes, so the rain got in. It was terrible living conditions.”

College wasn’t an option for Alvarado until a few years ago.

When Alvarado’s peers began applying for federal student aid during their junior year of high school, she felt helpless and alone.

“I couldn’t get federal financial aid, and I felt really left out,” Alvarado said. “The whole class would go to the computer lab to fill out their FAFSA, and I would be the only one not doing anything. I was just so embarrassed. People would be like ‘Oh you’re lazy, you’re not doing anything, you don’t care about school.’”

Alvarado quickly realized there weren’t many resources for undocumented students at her school. This led her to advocate for immigrant and undocumented students.

Despite being unable to apply for federal aid with her documented peers, Alvarado said she applied for every scholarship she came across which was geared toward undocumented students.

At the end of the year, it was Alvarado who had received the largest overall total in financial aid offers from various universities.

“I went from being so down, depressed and ashamed and thinking I couldn’t go to college because I couldn’t afford it to being the single student in my class of 40 students who received the most financial aid. It was like $700,000 in financial aid,” Alvarado said.

Hector Ramirez Vazquez, respiratory therapy senior, was recently elected as president of SCOPE. Vazquez has been working as an ambassador for SCOPE since its origination in 2014 and said his involvement with the organization rooted from personal experience as an undocumented student.

“SCOPE has helped me find my community,” Vazquez said. “Its helped me find people who have gone through the same things that I’ve gone through.”

Alvarado and Vazquez provide students with information about their rights through SCOPE. Providing opportunities to get involved with higher levels of education and organizing workshops to teach students how to deal with being detained, stopped or questioned about their status as a citizen.

Stella Silva, student diversity and inclusion associate director, works with the diverse student body at Texas State to create an uplifting, inclusive learning environment for underrepresented students.

“This is a very difficult time for undocumented students. It is crucial that allies who are faculty, staff and students continue to offer a space where undocumented students can process their feelings, unpack their frustrations and continue to strive to keep moving forward with the goal of completing their educational goals,” Silva said.

Alvarado said she will continue to work with these students, immigrants and the undocumented despite the risk of being targeted for deportation.

To undocumented persons, immigrants and anyone fearful of deportation, Alvarado said the best way to combat this fear is with knowledge.

“Know your rights,” Alvarado said. “A lot of people think they don’t have rights because they’re not a citizen; that is not true. You have rights. In any situation, you have rights.”