San Fernando Valley’s ‘Undocfund’ provides relief to undocumented students

DREAM center workers (left to right): Daniela Barcenas, Madison Villanueva and Tracy Buenavista.

Courtesy of Tracy Buenavista

DREAM center workers (left to right): Daniela Barcenas, Madison Villanueva and Tracy Buenavista.

Calvin Sam, Reporter

Liliana Palafox, a Chicano/a studies major at CSUN, was planning for a somewhat easy-going semester. As a mother, wife and student, Palafox’s time and resources are already carefully allocated to ensure that she can provide for herself and her family. She was blindsided by the aftereffects of COVID-19, and as an undocumented student, her somewhat easy-going semester was threatened with uncertainty.

Palafox’s concerns mirror other students who are apart of CSUN’s undocumented community. For that reason, Tracy Buenavista, an Asian American studies professor and CSUN EOP DREAM faculty member, founded the San Fernando Valley Undocufund with the help of DREAM’s Student Success Advisor Daniela Barcenas and Program Assistant Madison Villanueva. The informal fundraiser is also supported by several educators alongside CSUN’s Dreams to be Heard organization to provide financial support for CSUN’s undocumented students.

The Undocufund began providing assistance to undocumented students on April 4. In less than a day, Buenavista and her colleagues raised over $1,000. In less than a month, the Undocufund has raised more than $12,000, allowing them to distribute funds for basic needs, such as groceries and toiletries.

“Because the SFV Undocufund is grassroots and not formally affiliated with an institution, we are able to distribute funds directly to people who need them and without prohibitive processes like applications that require people to document their need, their pain,” Buenavista said.


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It’s Finally Friday! We are proud to support the San Fernando Valley UndocuFund, which was organized by one of our faculty mentors, Dr. Tracy Buenavista. Recently a COVID-19 stimulus package was passed to help people who have experienced loss of work, but it excludes many undocumented and mixed-status households from receiving financial assistance. The San Fernando Valley UndocuFund is a grassroots effort to provide financial assistance to people who have demonstrated strong resilience and contributions to their local community. Unlike other resources, the UndocuFund does not include prohibitive requirements to access funds, such as documentation of need. Please consider making a contribution and even if you are unable, share widely with anyone interested in donating. Also, we encourage you to do something similar within your network. ??

A post shared by CSUN EOP DREAM Center (@csundreamcenter) on

As of April 29, the Undocufund has provided aid to 52 students who were recommended by educators and community advocates in the San Fernando Valley.

Buenavista says a majority of the Undocufund’s recipients live in Los Angeles County where only 45% of residents are still employed, according to data collected by researchers at University of Southern California.

Undocumented immigrants who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 related circumstances are not eligible to apply for unemployment benefits from the State of California. Gov. Gavin Newsom created a one-time financial aid option for undocumented California residents\; however, households may only receive a maximum of $1,000 in financial assistance.

“We know of whole families who have lost their entire income due to loss of work,” Buenavista said. “Those who are still able to work during this time are being forced to be unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19.”

Palafox received aid from Undocufund, saying it has provided essential relief for her family.

“The pandemic has made my family and I think ahead and anticipate job and financial insecurity moving forward,” she said. “I reached out to the Undocufund to receive support for my parents whose jobs are being affected by COVID-19.”

According to the DREAM Center, CSUN has approximately 1,700 currently enrolled undocumented students. Undocumented students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students have been excluded from receiving a portion of the recently allocated $22 million toward CSUN students from the United States Department of Education.

The pandemic is also heavily impacting DACA recipients. The future of DACA is currently being deliberated by the Supreme Court, who must decide if the Trump administration may rescind DACA altogether. On top of this, DACA recipients are unable to receive federal assistance in the time of COVID-19.

“For many undocumented young people who are only able to work with DACA, their futures remain uncertain,” Buenavista said. “In the meantime, undocumented students are also being tasked to grapple all of these issues while being expected to engage in virtual learning. The shift to virtual education has only exacerbated pre-existing educational inequities for immigrant communities of color, related to lack of access to technology and adequate learning.”

The federal exclusion of undocumented people from receiving federal aid continues to strengthen Buenavista’s goal to help those who may need it during this time.

“As a daughter of Filipino immigrants, I have a deep commitment to ensuring the persistence and well-being of students from immigrant families,” said Buenavista.

While only being established this month, Undocufund is eager to prove itself as a confidential beacon of hope for undocumented people in L.A. County in the wake of the pandemic.

Those interested in donating can visit @dreamstobeheard on Venmo. Those in need of assistance can contact Buenavista at