Supporting Undocumented Students

Meng So, Director, Undocumented Student Program, University of California at Berkeley (photo courtesy of Meng So)

After the 2016 presidential election, the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program (USP) was overwhelmed with students who were in acute need of legal, mental, and emotional support. “The rhetoric around immigration has spiked to new highs of hatred, xenophobia, and vitriol,” says Meng So, USP’s director. “Our students and families are fighting to live with dignity in a society where political intolerance is at a fever pitch.”

In December 2016, Meng applied for funding from The San Francisco Foundation’s Rapid Response Fund, which works with donors to provide funding to organizations to allow them to respond quickly to unanticipated challenges or opportunities around racial and economic equity. In less than a month, the USP received $15,000 to amplify its legal support of students who were increasingly vulnerable under the new administration.

The funding helped people like Andy,* a UC Berkeley student who had to drop out of school due to health complications. No longer a registered student, Andy lost his student health coverage and was forced to return to his home country in order to seek medical treatment. Once recovered, he returned to the US to finish school but was then placed in deportation proceedings. USP helped him renew his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which allowed him to resume his studies at UC Berkeley.

In addition to providing direct services for students, Meng and his colleagues are now working with 170 universities nationwide to provide guidance on how best to support undocumented students. Instead of stigmatizing undocumented students or presenting them as “model minorities,” USP teaches that higher education must affirm the place of all students, work to identify the resources they need to succeed, and facilitate equitable access to those resources. The program is guided by the belief that empathy leads to equity.

“Our students and their families are some of the strongest and most resilient people I know,” he says. “They are the beating heart of America’s unfulfilled promise.”

The San Francisco Foundation, in partnership with our donors, is proud to support the Undocumented Student Program at UC Berkeley.

*Pseudonym used to protect the student’s anonymity.

Author: Eric Brown, foundation consultant

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