Status of the undocumented

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Over the summer, Natalie Varajas* decided she wanted to give herself a break and enroll in only one class this fall.


In high school, the 19-year-old student received a head-start at Timpview High School when she enrolled in concurrent college courses at Utah Valley University. She completed her associate’s degree last spring, but since then has encountered problems enrolling into her first-choice bachelor’s degree program.


“I have a pre-elementary associate’s in education, but I couldn’t move on to elementary education because they require you to have a social [security number],” said Varajas, who moved with her family to Provo from Baja California in 2003. “So if you don’t have one, you can’t apply for their bachelor’s program.”


Varajas is an undocumented student at UVU. Because of immigration laws mandating that elementary education teachers be U.S. citizens, she is no longer pursuing a degree in education.


“I was planning to be a teacher, but I couldn’t because of the social [security number],” Varajas said. “So I changed to a pre-law student. I was planning to apply for deferred action at the same time as applying to the School of Education, but nothing has happened. I decided to take a break because of the pressures I felt [to continue the application process].”


Under the Obama administration’s deferred action program announced June 15, undocumented persons who came to the U.S. as children can request that their removal from the country be deferred by the federal government for two years if they meet certain eligibility criteria.


The criteria include those who are under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and those who came to the United States before their sixteenth birthday. Students currently in school, have graduated high school or obtained a general education development (GED) certificate are also eligible for deferred action.


According to the Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 110,000 people hold undocumented status in the state of Utah, though Varajas is unsure of how many are enrolled as students at UVU.


“There’s too many to count. There’s not many that will admit that they’re undocumented, but there’s quite a few at UVU,” she said.


According to her own experiences at UVU, Varajas said many do not share their status as an undocumented immigrant for fear of social stigma if others knew their background.


“Even their closest friends might not know that they are [undocumented],” she said. “There are some undocumented Latinos that hang out with Caucasians, and they don’t know how their friends will react if they knew.”


Though undocumented students at UVU are not limited to those immigrating from neighboring countries, Varajas said, speaking of students from European and Asian countries.


“There’s a whole world out there of people that want to come to the U.S. for the opportunities,” said Varajas. “It’s not just those from Mexico immigrating.”


Connie Whaley, coordinator for International Admissions at UVU, said that undocumented student registration follows the same online application guidelines and requirements that any another student does.


“The one big issue that will distinguish the undocumented from the domestic student is that the undocumented will always be a non-resident of the state of Utah,” said Whaley. “This fact makes their tuition at the out-of-state rate.”


Non-resident tuition at UVU sits at $6,759 a semester, almost triple the amount resident students pay, which Varajas describes as a “big barrier for students that are undocumented.”


Varajas has maintained residency in Utah for over 12 months, which qualifies her for resident tuition, though this is not the case for many undocumented students.


“The only saving factor is Utah House Bill 144, which allows a student who has attended three consecutive years and a Utah high school, and graduates to receive the non-resident tuition waiver,” Whaley said.


Under House Bill 144, undocumented students must also file an affidavit with their educational institution stating that the student has filed an application to obtain legal status or intends to as soon as they are eligible.


“It’s not an issue if you’re undocumented and want to come to UVU,” Varajas said. “It’s if you can afford the tuition.”


*Names have been changed to protect the subject’s identity.