Organizations, resources supporting undocumented youth

Local and national groups aim to strengthen families, help youth afford college


College Track (CT): Based in East Palo Alto and founded by Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson in 1997, CT's mission is "to empower students from underserved communities to graduate from college." Starting the summer before ninth grade and continuing through college graduation, CT helps students navigate barriers that would prevent them from earning their college degrees, providing academic support, leadership training, financial and college advice, and scholarships.

CT started with 27 Sequoia Union High School District students in 1997 and now serves more than 200 high school students from East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City. CT has also expanded into other communities in California and across the country, including Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, New Orleans and Aurora, Colorado. Since 1997, CT has served more than 2,000 students through its various locations.

More than 90 percent of CT's high school seniors have been accepted into four-year colleges, and CT's college students are graduating (within six years) at a rate of 56 percent -- 2.5 times the national average for low-income students.

CT accepts students into its programs regardless of immigration status and has partnered with TheDream.US (see below), a national scholarship program for Dreamers funded in part by local donors Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.


• College Track:

• Palo Alto Weekly:

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA): CLSEPA provides legal services to immigrants in and around East Palo Alto, including representing youth facing deportation proceedings and helping youth obtain DACA ("Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," (see sidebar "Federal and state laws expand opportunities." LINK), as well as other forms of immigration relief.

CLSEPA also advocates for the rights of immigrants and youth in San Mateo County and trains volunteer attorneys helping with youth or family immigration services.

CLESPA also represents many children and their families fleeing violence and threats of harm or death in their home countries, primarily Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. CLSEPA has worked to collaborate with other Bay Area organizations to ensure these children and families are able to exercise their right to seek asylum and other forms of protection under U.S. laws.


• Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto:

• Palo Alto Weekly:

Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC): E4FC is a nonprofit based in San Francisco and serving the Bay Area. It is dedicated to "empowering undocumented young people in their pursuit of college, career and citizenship." (See "Educators discuss undocumented youths' challenges, resilience" for more information about E4FC, including a roundtable discussion with its staff)

E4FC Resources:

• E4FC maintains a comprehensive, updated list of college scholarships open to undocumented students:

• E4FC developed a California Dream Act Guide for students and their parents:

• E4FC prepared a guide for teachers helping Dreamers, in collaboration with NEA:

• E4FC created a list of "Top Ten Ways to Support Undocumented Students":

• E4FC developed a parent guide for supporting college-bound Dreamers (in English and Spanish):

Foundation for a College Education (FCE): Founded in 1995 and based in East Palo Alto, FCE's mission is to increase the number of students of color from East Palo Alto and similar communities who graduate from a four-year college or university.

FCE works to achieve its mission by building a community where higher education is attainable through meaningful family engagement that equips both students and parents with the tools needed to access school resources and navigate the college admissions process.

FCE's programs encourage students, starting in middle school, to pursue advanced academic work so they are prepared to apply to and gain admission to the colleges that will best serve them. FCE continues to support its students in college to ensure they graduate with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Many of the students in the FCE program attend Palo Alto schools as part of the Voluntary Transfer Program. FCE accepts students into its program regardless of immigration status.

Of the 140 students who have graduated from FCE's high school program since 1999, 100 percent have enrolled in a college or university. Eighty-five percent of those students have either graduated from college or on track to graduate. This percentage is more than double the college graduation rate for all students and more than three times the rate for students of color.

In 2012, FCE was the nonprofit recipient of Palo Alto's Tall Tree Award.


• Foundation for a College Education:

• Palo Alto Weekly:

Nuestra Casa: In February 2000, a group of Latino community organizations from East Palo Alto held a planning retreat, with support from the Peninsula Community Foundation and Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, to evaluate the political, economic and social context of East Palo Alto. The retreat produced a work plan to address the major challenges facing immigrant Latino residents in the community and to contribute in a more organized way to the future development of East Palo Alto.

This effort led to creation of Nuestra Casa in 2002. Nuestra Casa is the only grassroots community organization in East Palo Alto with a board consisting primarily of local Latino leaders, according to its website.

Nuestra Casa's mission is to increase the community participation of the Latino population of East Palo Alto and surrounding communities through building the capacity of families, while collaborating with community partners.

Today, Nuestra Casa offers four core programs and is involved in many other community projects. The four core programs include (1) free adult ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) classes held morning and evening; (2) the Parents as Leaders (PAL) program to help parents navigate the public education system and become more active in their kids' education and schools; (3) a grassroots leadership development and community education program using "promotoras" (outreach leaders) to provide information and advice at community events; and (4) a community health outreach and education initiative.

Annually Nuestra Casa directly serves approximately 3,000 local residents through its programs and provides general information to another 12,000 residents, according to its website.

Through its PAL program, Nuestra Casa is committed to seeing parents and the broader community play an active role in supporting a quality education for every child in the Ravenswood City School District. Recognizing the strong link between meaningful parent involvement and student success, Nuestra Casa works to help parents overcome obstacles they often face in creating that link, including language barriers; miscommunication arising from different cultural perspectives on parent involvement; and feelings of intimidation based on limited educational experience and unfamiliarity with the U.S. public school system.

Through one-on-one conversations, group reflections and training, parents develop a sense of community and learn how to transform themselves into leaders and advocates for change, according to the organization. Through these experiences, parents come to a deeper understanding of the importance of education for the future of their children.


• Nuestra Casa:

• Palo Alto Weekly:

Peninsula College Fund (PCF): Peninsula College Fund (PCF) began in 2005 as a grassroots effort, led by local high school teacher Charles Schmuck, to address the troubling college drop-out rate among local low-income youth.

Schmuck started, with help from his friends and neighbors, by offering college scholarships and mentoring to three motivated local students. Since then PCF has expanded to provide four-year college scholarships, one-on-one mentoring, college and career success training, and summer internships to more than 130 students from nine partner high schools in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Redwood City.

PCF scholarships amount to $3,000 per year (renewable for all four years of college). Eligibility requirements include a minimum 3.2 GPA, documented financial need, plan to attend a four-year accredited college/university, and status as an underrepresented minority and/or first-generation college student. Undocumented students are welcome to apply.

To be eligible for scholarship renewal, students must remain enrolled in college full-time, maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, attend all PCF college and career training events, provide PCF with transcripts and updates each term, and communicate with their mentor and PCF staff on a regular basis.

Ninety-percent of the students who have participated in the program have graduated from college or are on track to graduate from four-year colleges.


• Peninsula College Fund:

• The Almanac News:

Pursuit of Excellence (POE): The Pursuit of Excellence scholarship program provides support for qualified low-income students pursuing a four-year college degree.

Launched informally by Palo Alto couple Jerry and Dick Smallwood in 1985, POE started with one $2,000 scholarship to a Sequoia High School graduate heading for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Over the years, the couple's friends and adult children grew interested in the cause and as a result, the program has grown to assist hundreds of students, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Smallwoods target high school seniors for whom the funds -- $500 to $5,000 -- can be a "tipping point" in their ability to attend a four-year college. Preference is given to students who have worked during their high school years. Renewal amounts are based on a student's need and performance.

Since 1985, POE has offered assistance to more than 430 students. During the 2015-16 fiscal year, more than $500,000 has been awarded to a total of 165 new and continuing students. POE scholarship recipients include undocumented students.

POE prides itself on keeping office and administrative expenses low so that the students receive the maximum benefits from donors' gifts, according to the organization. Volunteers provide all the manpower to maintain the operations of the scholarship program. Over the years, approximately 98 percent of the funds spent by POE have been awarded to students with the remaining 2 percent used for administrative and office expenses.


• Pursuit of Excellence:

• Palo Alto Weekly:

Sequoia Adult School Scholars (SASS): Founded in 2009 by Palo Alto resident Elizabeth Weal, SASS provides financial and tutoring assistance to local low-income ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) and GED (high school equivalency test prep) students so they can continue to pursue their education at the college level.

As an ESL teacher at Sequoia District Adult School, Weal saw that many of the school's graduates had the potential and motivation to continue on to community college, but financial constraints and a lack of information about college often prevented them from making the transition. SASS was created in response to this need and provided its first scholarships in 2010.

As of last fall, SASS is supporting 166 students, a new record, according to Weal.

SASS recipients range in age from 19 to 61 years. While the majority are from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, SASS is also supporting students from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cameroon, Colombia, Congo, Iran, Japan, Peru and Vietnam. SASS students include both documented and undocumented immigrants.

In fall 2014, SASS launched a tutoring program in which community volunteers are paired with SASS recipients requesting one-on-one help with their studies. By spring, the program included almost 20 student/tutor pairs. In addition to helping students improve their reading and writing, tutors also serve as mentors helping students connect to resources and opportunities.

Most of SASS's tutors are from Palo Alto and represent a wide range of professions. According to Weal, in many instances, the tutors are a deciding factor in whether a student stays in school. Tutoring also provides an opportunity for local community members to learn first-hand how inequality exemplifies itself in this community.

Eligibility for SASS scholarships includes passing the highest level ESL class taught at Sequoia Adult School or earning a GED. While all SASS recipients meet community colleges' low-income requirements for tuition waivers, they still need other financial help and resources.

SASS scholarships provide funds for textbooks, bus passes and parking passes; donated computers; college advising (underwritten by Silicon Valley Community Foundation); and financial-aid workshops. Students taking the GED test also can apply to SASS for funds to cover the test fee ($140).



• Palo Alto Weekly:

67 Suenos: The 67 Suenos project, based in San Francisco and serving Bay Area youth, was created to help raise the profile and voices of "more average" undocumented migrant youths, who make up an estimated 67 percent of the Dreamer population. According to 67 Suenos' website, these youth are being left out of the national debate about immigration reform, as they would not be eligible for legal status under the current terms of the proposed federal DREAM Act (See "Federal and state laws expand opportunities.").

67 Suenos director Pablo Paredes explained the origins of the group and its mission in a recorded interview: "Every day in the Oakland public schools, where I do most of my work, I saw human beings who deserve human rights that weren't being talked about at all.

"What we decided to do is to organize undocumented youth to tell their own stories, to tell everyday stories of undocumented youth in the community in Oakland and the Bay Area.

"The number 67 is very important to this. The latest study by the Migration Policy Institute suggests that 67 percent of the 2.1 million undocumented youth in this country would not be able to benefit from the (federal proposed) Dream Act, so that's 67 percent of the voices who are missing from the debate, and therefore their future is missing from the legislative effort. That's who we want to humanize."

To capture the wider spectrum of experiences, 67 Suenos creates opportunities for youth to tell, record and collect their stories. Their narratives include traumatic events and hardships related to poverty and discrimination, illuminating the barriers they must overcome to achieve in school or otherwise.

67 Suenos also sponsors expressive-art activities, such as mural paintings, and other community events to help support, engage and shift the narrative surrounding these youth.

Youth engaging with 67 Suenos experience the organization as a family, through its "safe spaces, healing circles and deep relationships among peers, adults, and community leaders," according to the website. Youth also learn organizing and advocacy skills to impact local and national immigration policies and to expand the public debate and legislative possibilities affecting all immigrant youth.

According to its website, 67 Suenos leaders have borrowed a battle-cry from the disability rights movement: "Nothing About Us Without Us!"


• 67 Suenos:

• Colorlines:

• Migration Policy Institute:


Define American: Define American is a media and culture organization "using the power of stories to transcend politics and shift the conversation around immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America," according to its website. It was founded in 2011 by Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, filmmaker, activist and undocumented immigrant from the Philippines.

The impetus for Define American comes from Vargas' view of what being American is all about: "I define 'American' as someone who works really hard, someone who is proud to be in this country and wants to contribute to it. I'm independent. I pay taxes. I'm self-sufficient. I'm an American. I just don't have the right papers."

Vargas grew up in Mountain View and did not learn of his undocumented status until he was 16 while attempting to obtain a California driver's license with documents given to him by his family that he discovered were fraudulent. He kept his status secret and used a Filipino passport and false documents that included a green card and an Oregon State driver's license to help him avoid deportation. He was able to pursue college and career through use of these deceptions.

Vargas publicly disclosed his undocumented status in a 2011 essay in The New York Times Magazine to encourage dialogue about the U.S. immigration system, thus launching a new career and identity as immigrant rights activist. A year later, Vargas appeared on the cover of Time magazine with many other undocumented young people as part of a follow-up story he authored.

Vargas also produced and directed "Documented," a documentary film about his life growing up in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. During the film, Vargas raised these questions: "What do you want to do with me? What do you want to do with us? How do you define American?"

In the New York Times essay, Vargas wrote about the practical and emotional burdens he faced due to his status: "For more than a decade of getting part-time and full-time jobs, employers have rarely asked to check my original Social Security card. When they did, I showed the photocopied version, which they accepted. Over time, I also began checking the citizenship box on my federal I-9 employment eligibility forms. (Claiming full citizenship was actually easier than declaring permanent resident 'green card' status, which would have required me to provide an alien registration number.)

"This deceit never got easier. The more I did it, the more I felt like an impostor, the more guilt I carried -- and the more I worried that I would get caught. But I kept doing it. I needed to live and survive on my own, and I decided this was the way."

Vargas compared his 2011 disclosure about his immigration status to an earlier decision as a teenager, in 1999, to come out as gay: "Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status."

In high school, Vargas got his start in journalism with an unpaid internship at the Mountain View Voice, a sister paper to the Palo Alto Weekly.

Vargas missed the age cut-off for Obama's 2012 executive action program, "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" (or DACA), by several months so was not able to take advantage of the legal benefits offered to other qualified, and slightly younger, undocumented young people, which would have included a Social Security number, work authorization and protection from deportation.

On July 15, 2014, after living for 21 years in the United States as an undocumented resident, Vargas was arrested by immigration authorities in McAllen, Texas, where he was questioned and released several hours later; authorities declined to initiate removal proceedings against him in an exercise of their prosecutorial discretion.

Vargas is also the founder and editor of #EmergingUS, a digital magazine focusing on race, immigration, and identity in a multicultural America, produced in partnership with the Los Angeles Times.

==I Sources::

• Define American:

• Mountain View Voice:

• New York Times:

• Huffington Post:

==B "Dream Summer" Internships=: When Congress failed to pass the Dream Act in 2010, immigrant advocates launched "Dream Summer," a national leadership-development program that places participants as interns for 10 weeks in social-justice organizations.

Dream Summer is sponsored by the UCLA Labor Center's Dream Resource Center and is open to all immigrant youth (and their allies) over 18, regardless of immigration or educational status.

Dream Summer interns work with their host organizations to incorporate and strengthen the inclusion of undocumented immigrant issues into the organization's social-justice work. Dream Summer participants receive $5,000 for their participation.

Through these internships, Dream Summer seeks to

• empower immigrant youth to be the next generation of social-justice leaders through leadership and professional development opportunities;

• create safe and healing spaces for immigrant youth to connect with each other and explore their identities; and

• promote an intersectional, cross-racial and multi-generational approach to social justice that addresses the needs of immigrant communities.

More than 400 internship opportunities to immigrant youth and allies throughout the nation have been offered by the Dream Summer program since it began.

Since 2013, Dream Summer also has included Healthy California as a special project. Interns who participate in this project promote the right to access health care, regardless of immigration status. More information on this program is posted at the Undocumented and Uninsured website.


• UCLA Labor Center:

• Daily Bruin:

TheDream.US: TheDream.US is a national scholarship fund for immigrant youth who have received "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" (DACA), want to obtain a college education and want to give back to their communities.

In June 2013, TheDream.US co-founders (including former Washington Post Publisher Don Graham and Henry R. Munoz III, Democratic activist and philanthropist) convened a gathering of undocumented youth, national and state-based organizations, post-secondary educational institutions and Fortune 500 leading companies to discuss the creation of a scholarship fund for Dreamers to help support a high-quality college education to undocumented students. From this gathering, TheDream.US was born.

TheDream.US started with $25 million in scholarship funds raised from philanthropic and business leaders across the country, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Dream.US scholarships help with a student's tuition and other expenses, up to $25,000 per student. Dream.US scholarship recipients must maintain a 3.0 GPA, remain enrolled in a "partner" college and maintain their DACA status. Current California partner colleges include California State University campuses at East Bay, Long Beach, San Francisco and San Jose; DeAnza, Evergreen Valley and Long Beach community colleges; and University of California, Santa Cruz.

In June 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $5 million to the organization's scholarship fund.


• TheDream.US:

• Palo Alto Weekly:

Los Otros Dreamers: Los Otros Dreamers is a virtual network of young people who were born in Mexico but grew up in the U.S. and have since returned to Mexico, whether by a deportation order or by their own decision after facing obstacles in pursuing higher education or professional careers in the U.S.

Growing out of the research and publication of a book by the same name --"Los Otros Dreamers"by Jill Anderson and Nin Solis -- the network connects bilingual and bicultural youth and their allies "within a community of recognition and support," according to Los Otros Dreamers website. Through the network, youth exchange information about resources and find support from others as they navigate the "foreign land" of their birth country and the hardships there, including poverty, depression and homesickness.

Many of these "Otros Dreamers" would have been eligible for President Barack Obama's executive action program, "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" (or DACA) (See "Federal and state laws expand opportunities") but made their decision to leave before DACA was announced in June 2012. Others experienced a rockier path to adulthood in the U.S., including minor criminal records or gang involvement, which led to their deportation and ban on re-entry to the U.S.

Return to their birth country has been difficult for these youth. The Los Angeles Times reports: "(Los Otros Dreamers) say the Mexican government has been slow to meet the needs of the more than 1.4 million people who have returned from the U.S., either by choice or because of deportation, since 2005, a figure that includes hundreds of thousands of young people who spent their formative years in America.

"Some returning immigrants describe being teased for their imperfect Spanish and for not knowing the basics of Mexican culture and history. Others find themselves isolated in the rural communities their parents came from, struggling to make connections with family members whose lives have taken very different tracks. Many run into bureaucratic obstacles when it comes to finding work or continuing their education.

"In Tijuana, Nancy Landa (a deported former student body president and graduate of California State University, Northridge) spent more than a month trying to obtain the Mexican identification card required to work. It took her several more months to land a job.

"Eventually she was hired by a telecommunications company to help American callers who were having trouble with their products.

"Landa decided she wanted to apply for a master's program, but no Mexican university would accept her Cal State Northridge transcript. It was a huge blow. She had spent six years working toward that degree, holding down a job and spending four hours a day on public transportation commuting to Northridge from her parents' home in South Los Angeles.

"Now, it seemed as though all of that hard work to elevate herself and her family -- her dad worked as a construction worker, her mom cleaned houses -- didn't matter."

The stories of 26 "Otros Dreamers" appear, in their own words, with photographs by Nin Solis in the "Los Otros Dreamers" book. A short video featuring one of them, Rufino, accompanied a New York Times 2014 article about the book, called "Two Countries, No Home."


• Los Otros Dreamers:

• Los Angeles Times:

• New York Times (including video):

United We Dream: United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led grassroots organization in the nation, according to its website. Its nonpartisan network is made up of more than 100,000 immigrant youth and allies and 55 affiliate organizations in 26 states.

United We Dream's mission is to address the inequities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth; its leaders believe that by empowering youth, the cause of the entire community -- justice for all immigrants -- can be advanced.

In addition to political campaigns, United We Dream runs programs that advocate for access to higher education; stopping the deportations of undocumented youth and their parents; and strengthening alliances and support for Dreamers at the intersection of queer and immigrant rights.

Source: United We Dream:

U.S. Department of Education: In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide to help educators, school leaders and community organizations better support undocumented youth in high school and college.

The guide's resources include

• An overview of the rights of undocumented students;

• Tips for educators on how to support undocumented youth in high school and college;

• Key information on non-citizen access to federal financial aid;

• A list of private scholarships for which undocumented youth might be eligible;

• Information on federally funded adult education programs at the local level; and

• Guidance for migrant students in accessing their education records for DACA.

According to the government's press release, "The aim of the guide is to help educators and school staff support the academic success of undocumented youth, to debunk misconceptions by clarifying the legal rights of undocumented students as well as sharing helpful information about financial aid options open to undocumented students, and to support youth in applying for DACA consideration or renewal."

Source: U.S. Department of Education:


Read more:

Growing up undocumented

College adviser to Dreamers: Leverage strengths, get creative

Undocumented immigrants: key statistics

Pursuing the rocky path to college

Undocumented youth describe migration to U.S.

Federal and state laws expand opportunities for Dreamers

The Dreamer social movement

Educators discuss undocumented youths' challenges, resilience

A safe haven to dream


Also find these and other stories on our Storify page

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