Unafraid: Pilot program to offer undocumented students resources

Cassandra Jaramillo

Jose Granados had been kicked out of his home after his parents found out he was gay.

Not only was he homeless, but he was undocumented, making it hard to find a job to sustain himself.

“That was the lowest point of my life,” Granados said, remembering the traumatic experience when he was a sophomore at Austin Community College.

Despite the hardships, he still held on to his dreams of attending The University of Texas at Austin. After finding an immigration clinic that helped him get him approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and receiving a DACA scholarship, he applied to UT and was accepted.

“I was able to work and then make a life for myself,” Granados said.

Granados, now an education junior at UT, said there are plenty of undocumented students with similar stories like his, but they are silenced by the stigma. Now, a pilot program called the Monarch Program wants to help more undocumented students feel unafraid about college.

Katelyn Martinez, a student development specialist with the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, and her team are looking to provide academic, professional and personal resources to help students during their college years. The pilot program is expecting to start fall 2016.

“We are not a political organization, … but we do want to fill the gap that happens with academics,” Martinez said.

LCAE oversees other programs which aim to help first-generation and low income students, such as Gateway Scholars, Longhorn Link and McNair Scholars, for students going to graduate school.

Martinez said in her experience with mentoring undocumented high school students, she found many have big dreams of attending college. However, they feel inhibited by their status, which makes them ineligible for a majority of federal aid.

“One of the biggest issues that comes to undocumented students is financial,” Martinez said.

The program wants to alleviate academic pressures for students like finding scholarships for which undocumented students are eligible. It also aims to be a safe place for students dealing with personal and professional situations.

Through the University Leadership Initiative, a student group that organizes programs and advocates for legislation that benefits the undocumented community, business sophomore Ana Flores has helped give feedback to the program.  

“If there’s a center that everyone knows is for undocumented students, then people are more willing to go because it’s the safe space that [the University has] been lacking,” Flores said.

Martinez said the Monarch Program will give students access to a textbook and laptop library for those who need to check out items for classes.

Granados said although a laptop might seem like a usual commodity for college students, some can’t afford it. He said he hasn’t had funds to purchase a laptop since arriving at UT.

“Each undocumented student has their own story ­— like me — and that’s why this program is needed,” Granados said.

Aileen Bumphus, associate vice president for Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, said Martinez’s framework for the program is an additional step to help undocumented students find support.

“This program holds great potential for being a model program where students feel supported — encouraged to dream all that they want to be at the University of Texas at Austin,” Bumphus said.