The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Undocumented L.A. students ‘Wise Up’

With the number of Hispanics in the nation reaching 41 million, the figures of undocumented students also face changes. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, there are about 50,000 to 65,000 immigrant students who have spent their entire lives in the United States, and obtained an education in American public high schools, but are denied a college education because they have no paperwork to prove their residency.

While many find themselves unable to attend colleges and universities, other undocumented students like Maria Rodriguez and Samantha Contreras continue to fight for their rights by involving themselves in programs such as “Wise Up!,” a non-profit, youth led project of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

According to Contreras, a youth organizer for Wise Up and currently a student at Santa Monica Community College with plans to attend either UCLA, USC or Occidental College, the program is a collaboration of youth who work together under the consensus process.

“The main decision making body is Wise Up Core, which has about 10 committed students who do the lead thinking for events and campaigns,” Contreras said.

“There are numerous issues that affect the immigrant communities: health care, employment, war, economy, abortion and transportation are some of the major ones. The main issues that CHIRLA/Wise Up address are relevant to Latino communities.”

Wise Up began in the March of 2001 before Governor Gray Davis signed the AB540 Bill, allowing students who graduated from California high schools to be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition. The program recognized the need for an Immigrant Youth Rights movement in L.A. and joined with numerous students from the L.A. area to meet every Wednesday afternoon in support of AB540. By organizing activities, rallies and press conferences, Wise Up members made their voices heard in Sacramento and helped pass AB540 on Oct. 11, 2001.

According to Contreras, Wise Up addresses the issue of workers and employment, legalization, gaining higher education, financial aid, driver’s license, reuniting families and human rights enforcement. She also added that CHIRLA/Wise Up will be helping in “housing due to local ordinances that aim to deny housing for undocumented people.”

The program also encourages students to pursue higher education through campaigning and community events that help build the strong foundation for the youth immigrant rights movement in Los Angeles.

A main supporter and contributor for Wise Up is its parent organization CHIRLA. Along with CHIRLA, Wise Up also has a statewide network, known as the AB540 Network, in which 24 different colleges and universities, such as UCLA (IDEAS), California State University at Los Angeles (SURGE), University of California at Berkeley (RISE) and East Los Angeles College (SEP), form allies by coming together and fighting for undocumented students in California.

Wise Up tends to work side by side with several Latino and non-Latino organizations and communities like Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Salvadorian American Leadership and Educational Fund (SALEF), Inner City Struggle and Californians for Justice.

Although the amount of support Wise Up receives is abundant, it is the members who help keep the project running. Youth organizers, like Contreras, have been involved with the program for some time now.

“I became involved with CHIRLA (Wise Up) when I was a senior in high school because unjust laws directly affected me,” Contreras said. “My own self-determination, meeting incredibly amazing people, the political discussions and so much more keeps me motivated.”

Contreras moved to the United States at the age of six to save her sister’s life because Mexico didn’t have the necessary medical equipment to keep her sister alive. Without any knowledge of her legal status, she found herself unable to attend college after graduating from Fairfax High School, eventually leading her to join CHIRLA.

“Someone once told me,” Contreras said, “‘the only rights you have are the ones you are willing to fight for’– and to me that is true.”

With the help of Wise Up and all the organizations that work closely with it, several students like Rodriguez and Contreras have been able to attend colleges and universities. The program has positively impacted the lives of many students by helping undocumented students realize their dreams, according to Contreras. Furthermore the program has left a positive impact on people because their rights as workers are made clearer to them, and lastly, several students have found aid when applying to colleges.

What began in 2001 as a small project to support AB540 has now grown into a program whose mission is to educate, empower and encourage the immigrant youth to be socially and politically aware so social changes can occur within communities, improving social conditions that affect immigrants in the United States. According to Rodriguez, Wise Up aims to recruit people that are willing to help the community by educating and lobbying legislators who have the power to make bills.

In the future, Wise Up plans to continue to organize, educate and advocate for the rights of undocumented students and of all immigrants, says Contreras, who plans to attend law school and become a U.S. senator one day. In the meantime she wants to continue developing her skills as an organizer in order to help her community. However, her plans of staying with Wise Up for the rest of her life are still in question.

“I can’t say I’ll be here for the rest of my life because I am going to college, but this is a great job,” Contreras said. “I have learned how to be a more critical thinker, to love and appreciate what the community has to say, how to advocate for what I believe is right, how the political process really works and how to love myself and others,” she added.

More to Discover