How One DACA Student Pushed Through to Pay it Forward

February 8, 2017

By TheDream.US

For the latest on the uncertain fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, read our coverage here and here. 

Children in America are raised to believe that if they work hard and apply themselves, they can achieve anything they set their minds to – including going to college. However, there is a group of children for whom college is a near impossibility – no matter how hard they work. These students are called DREAMers. They are immigrants who came to this country as children, have grown up here, and consider this country to be their home. Like many of their peers, they have big dreams for their futures. 

Unfortunately, at the age of 18, these DREAMers are considered to be unauthorized immigrants. They have no path to become a citizen – no matter how hard they work, no matter how talented they are, no matter that this is the only country they have ever known. It is often at this age when these students learn that their status prevents them from accessing any federal financial aid, student loans, or scholarships to help them afford college. It is at this age that the doors of opportunity close. 

This is the story of Maria Baaz. Maria came to the U.S. at the young age of 10 with her family. Like other immigrant families, her family came seeking better opportunities for their children. As Maria’s mother often reminded her, “We came to the United States because we want you to be someone in life.” 

Maria struggled through her high-school years because she was aware that her immigration status would be a barrier. But it was not until she was a senior and faced completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid that she truly realized the limitations she would face because of her immigration status. 

Determined to fulfill her mother’s dream, Maria enrolled in a local community college – sometimes taking only one class at a time because that was all she could afford. Maria remembers that she often felt lost because academic advisors and faculty were not yet prepared to support and guide undocumented students. She often found herself “confused and discouraged" by inconsistent and inaccurate advice. But she pushed forward and, after five years, she graduated with an associate’s degree. 

When Maria learned about TheDream.US – a college access and success program for DREAMers – she immediately applied for a scholarship for community college graduates. She received the scholarship to attend the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) to earn bachelor’s degree in psychology. 

Now a senior benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Maria became active at CSULB as an intern at the Dream Success Center where she provided students with information on campus scholarships and resources. She also seized the opportunity to go back to her community college to tutor students taking psychology courses. Maria was recently recognized as the “Most Outstanding Student in Psychology,” and she is a candidate for the “Outstanding Baccalaureate Award” in CSULB’s College of Liberal Arts. 

Maria is now considering graduate school and eventually a career as a college counselor. Not surprisingly, she wants to help other students realize their dream of a college education.

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