Despite seemingly insurmountable odds due to his status as an illegal immigrant, Jose Antonio Vargas developed a successful career as a journalist and immigration activist. Vargas moved to the Bay Area from the Philippines when he was a child, unaware that he was undocumented, and drew national attention when he came out as an “undocumented immigrant” in a 2011 article for the New York Times Magazine. His story is inspiring, and a strong support system helped make it possible.
Thankfully, undocumented students at UC Berkeley now have a resource to help facilitate their own success stories. The campus hired Meng So as its first undocumented student program coordinator, who can assist undocumented students in finding internships and financial aid, among other forms of support. So, who also works part time as an academic counselor, is a welcome sign of progress in his new position. Other campuses should strongly consider creating similar counseling jobs.
About a year after the passage of the California DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to receive state financial aid, it’s encouraging to see the campus create a position to assist students affected by the act.
So’s new position is a commendable investment for the campus. At a massive public university like UC Berkeley, it is all too easy for students to get lost in the anonymity of the masses. Undocumented students face an additional layer of complications — a burden that So may be able to ease. Although So will not be able to break down every barrier for his students, he can help them navigate the steps necessary to finance their education. He can also create a safe, trustworthy space for undocumented students to express their concerns and solve problems.
More symbolically, UC Berkeley’s creation of this counseling position is a beacon of hope when, time and again, other doors of opportunity are slammed shut. Most recently, UCLA’s National Dream University program was halted after officials realized it did not go through the proper process for approval. The program would have offered a certificate in immigration and labor rights and was geared toward undocumented students. UC officials should give Dream University the administrative approval it needs to launch.
Even with support from programs like the Dream University and UC Berkeley’s new counseling position, undocumented students still face myriad challenges. In future years, legislation will hopefully provide a permanent pathway for undocumented students to become citizens, but until then, the university can and should do everything in its power to support them.