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

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Undocumented: One student’s journey to success

Eight years ago, Joselyn Arroyo graduated high school with a commitment to overcome any obstacle in her path. That path led her to CSUN’s graduate journalism program. When her decision came to play, people who didn’t know her secret thought it was a bold move to strengthen her knowledge. But to Arroyo, graduate school was an escape from answering the question of why she didn’t have a job.

“There were times I was offered jobs and couldn’t take them,” Arroyo said. “I always had to turn them down.” The jobs weren’t only professional journalism jobs, but also ones at the mall while she was still a teenager.

Her secret, which she only told people after she completely trusted them, was that she was an undocumented resident in the United States. Arroyo said it had even come to the point that she feared having someone dislike her because they might use their knowledge of her status against her.

The title most undocumented students give themselves is AB-540, a term coined from a 2001 bill that allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees, rather than the out-of-state fees that could be several times as high. Arroyo didn’t have access to the benefits of being an AB-540 student during her first years in college. The bill was not in affect at the time, so from 2000 to 2002, she had to pay out-of-state tuition fees. She had to forget about financial aid because only students with a social security number could receive grants or loans.

In high school, Arroyo was able to take advantage of a series of private scholarships that only asked for academic, community service and sports qualifications. In total she received $12,000 to cover a portion of her college education. While students were paying $11 a unit at the time, Arroyo had to pay nearly 13 times as much; $133 per unit.

At this point, you might be wondering why Arroyo chose coming to California to experience the frustrating circumstances as an undocumented resident. The fact of the matter is that she didn’t choose to come to the United Sates. It was the decision of her parents.

Arroyo was born in San Luis Potos’iacute;, Mexico, on April 26, 1982. Her parents were both engineers in Mexico, but decided on pursuing a better life in California. She was only 3-years-old when she crossed the border with her mother and older sister, using the money her father had sent them. He had arrived in the U.S. three months before.

It was in high school when Arroyo found out she was living in America undocumented. Her friends were getting ready to take driving tests for their licenses so she decided to ask her parents for permission to do the same. Her parents knew they had to tell her the truth at that point.

During her junior year in high school, she fell in a six-month-long bout with depression.

“[I] didn’t want to talk to anyone,” she said. Rather than let her depression consume her, she decided that mentality wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She wanted to show she was ready to challenge her fortune. Instead of giving up on life, she strove to achieve, acting simultaneously as the editor of her high school’s newspaper and captain of the cross-country team. She worked as a teacher’s assistant and, ironically, there she would teach students how to apply for college and receive financial aid, while she wasn’t able to. She also volunteered as an immigration interpreter to help people apply for citizenship when, again, she wasn’t able to.

Arroyo’s interest in broadcast journalism was apparent from an early age. Her mother would take her to the NBC news studio while she was working there cleaning offices. She would see the anchors and ask her mother what they did. “They write news,” her mother would say.

Arroyo decided she wanted to do the same. When she enrolled in college, she chose broadcast journalism as her major. Through her mother’s job, Arroyo met Wendy Harris, executive producer of KNBC-TV.

“My mom knew Wendy,” Arroyo said. “She was always nice to my mom.” Arroyo decided to apply for an internship with NBC and soon began working with Harris. Arroyo’s internship allowed her to work with news, sports and the Spanish-language Telemundo programs.

“Journalism is a wonderful career, it helps the community and journalists get to see the world,” Harris said. She wanted Arroyo to experience those opportunities. Harris said she would like to think of herself as a kind of mentor for Arroyo.

While interning at NBC, Arroyo didn’t tell Harris she was undocumented. As an intern, Arroyo was offered to help with the production of the 2001 Olympics. She turned down the offer because she couldn’t be legally employed.

She explained her situation to the sports producer. It was around that time that Harris also found out about Arroyo’s status.

While living in the shadows of undocumented residency, Arroyo would have to make excuses for anything involving her immigration status. In high school, she had to explain why she didn’t have a driver’s license to her friends; answering that she was waiting until she turned 18 to get it. When she got to college, her friends would go to bars and clubs but she would have to stay home because she didn’t have an ID. As an undocumented resident, the only identification she was able to get was her Mexican consulate card and school ID card.

She wasn’t embarrassed to show her consulate card, but by people seeing it, they would ask questions and find out she was here illegally.

Once she transferred to CSUN in 2002 as an undergraduate, she had to explain to the admissions and records staff what an AB-540 student was.

In a nutshell, the AB-540 bill allows students who have been in high school for three years to pay in-state tuition fees. The bill is not specifically targeting undocumented students. Students that were residents in other states, but have attended high school in California for three years, or more, also to pay in-state tuition fees.

To finish the submission process of gaining AB-540 status, students have to sign an affidavit, which for undocumented students means they are declaring their illegal status and agreeing they will, or have, filed for residency.

None of this information is given to either the Immigration Customs Enforcement or anyone else outside the admissions and records office. Thanks to the comprehensive privacy, no one, not even Arroyo’s professors, knew what her status was.

“I was never aware of [her legal status]. I had since learned about it, but at the time I had her as a student, I didn’t know,” said Jim Hill, assistant professor in journalism department. “Whatever struggles she’s overcome, she’s done so beautifully,” he said.

“I found out about it after she had graduated. I wondered why she wasn’t getting a job,” said another of Arroyo’s professors, Rick Marks, associate professor in journalism department. He had seen three or four students in Arroyo’s graduating class receive jobs, but she hadn’t.

Marks said Arroyo told her it was her reality and instead she was going back to school. She decided associate professor Jos’eacute; Luis Benavides would be the first she would tell her secret to.

Benavides was Arroyo’s first advisor at CSUN. He wasn’t judgmental when she told him, and Arroyo said he was there to encourage her to persue her dreams. As an undergrad, she was the only one to read all six books that Benavides assigned, he said.

After she had obtained her bachelor’s degree, Benavides helped Arroyo apply for the graduate program at CSUN. Once she was more open about her situation, Arroyo decided, with the help of Benavides and other professors, to join other students to form the group Higher Education and Realizing Dreams. In their first event, titled Education Makes Dreams Come True, HEARD focused on the media’s portrayal of immigrant youths.

People have this notion that immigrants are the only ones that work in the sweatshops and clean houses, Arroyo said.

In some of her classes, stud
ents would tell her their grievances with illegal immigrants, not realizing she was one herself because she didn’t fit the stereotype.

Arroyo said she’s not as involved with Dreams To Be Heard this semester, the name taken after another organization, Dreams and HEARD joined together. She’s currently working on a radio documentary project on AB-540 students.

After 21 years of living as an undocumented student, Arroyo was granted her residency last year after filling her papers through her marriage.

“Everything is new to me, it’s been less than a year,” Arroyo said.

She now holds a position at the broadcast news studio at CSUN as the media production specialist.She’s helping out Lincoln Harrison, a professor in the broadcast journalism department.

On being able to finally work in her field Arroyo said, “Taking this job is part of the experience of getting my residency.”

“I wouldn’t change my experience, ever,” she said. “It’s made me who I am.”

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