Undocumented Students Struggle Toward College

PHOTO The US-Mexico border wall is shown near Tijuana, Mexico. Thousands of undocumented students, many brought to the US as children, are fighting to get an education the United States.

On a bright day on the campus of the University of California-Berkeley, 21-year-old Victor squints into the sun as another student comes up to him for a breezy chat.

In most ways Victor is like any other college student. He has a 3.4 GPA and he majors in ethnic studies. He wants to go to medical school. His dream is to be a pediatrician one day.

He has grand ambitions, but Victor may never actually reach his dream job, and it likely won't be grades holding him back.

An undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Victor is in some ways invisible. By law, he isn't allowed to be in the country. He doesn't have a Social Security number or a driver's license -- indeed, as far as the federal government is concerned, an identity.

VIDEO: Undocumented students fight financial battles, stigma to get higher education.
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As a small child, Victor was brought across the border after his father was murdered in Mexico. His family decided that it wasn't safe anymore for them, they left for the United States.

"I was five years old when we left Juahaca, Mexico. I remember the day," he says. "It was very early in the morning, I was a little bit scared but at the same time very excited because I was coming to this land of opportunity. I remember pretending to fall asleep as we crossed the border. The next thing I remember is waking up at McDonalds with a Happy Meal.

"I remember my first day here when I was in school. My mom took me and she said, son, here you go, it's a new beginning for us. I was scared, I started crying. I didn't know how to communicate with people in English, but little by little I started learning, watching cartoons, reading."

His teachers pushed him and with hard work Victor learned English, got good grades, learned the culture and grew up as any other American boy -- going to school, playing soccer, joining school clubs. Until one day, one club wouldn't let him in.

"It didn't really hit me until the eighth grade, when I went through a math program and they needed my Social Security number and I went home to my mom, I said, 'Mom can you find me this number, it's essential for me to apply for this program,' and she said, 'No you don't have one, because you don't have resident or citizen status here in the United States,'" says Victor.

Path to College Derailed by Immigrant Status

It was just the first in a series of obstacles that Victor would face.

Today there are an estimated 65,000 undocumented students in America just like Victor, who graduate from high school and have the potential to go to college. Most colleges across the nation have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to admitting undocumented students. They don't ask for Social Security numbers.

But the biggest barrier for these students is financing. They are not eligible for any federal aid. There is even a gray area when it comes to the legality of accepting private scholarships. There are 10 states -- California, New York, Utah, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas -- that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. But the costs are still high, especially considering the students are not legally allowed to work.

"When it finally hit me that I wasn't going to be able to go to UC-Davis, it was really devastating because I had worked so hard, and I really wanted this, it was just gone like nothing because I didn't have any money," says another undocumented student, called Maria.

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