When most people think of undocumented or illegal immigrants, they picture them coming to America for a job. But what about those who come here in hopes for an education? Without proper documentation, immigrants coming to the U.S. have a long and difficult road to travel to receive a higher education.
For Saint Peters’ University student Christian Ugaz, this was an all too familiar struggle. Ugaz is one of the first students at Saint Peter’s University to openly discuss that he is an undocumented student.
“Most people are pretty shocked when I tell them that I’m undocumented,” admits Ugaz. “But nobody has ever responded negatively,” he adds.
Ugaz is a sophomore at Saint Peters’ University. He is majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Latin American and Latino studies. For Ugaz and his brother, having an education was the most important part of coming to America from their home country of Peru. At first, Ugaz and his brothers were attending private school in Peru. However, when the finances began to add up, Ugaz’s father knew he needed to find another option.
“My father came here first,” Ugaz explains. “I know he left because in Peru, things weren’t going too well. He thought the best option was coming to America to find a better job so he could finance our educatio
n in Peru.”
Four years after Ugaz’s father came to America, he and his brother and mother left Peru and came to America on a tourist Visa in hopes to join his father. There were many obstacles that stood in the way of Ugaz and the education he wanted so badly.
“When I was applying to schools, it was really, really tough. I knew I couldn’t apply to state schools because I wasn’t a citizen,” Ugaz explains. One of his biggest setbacks was being denied by a school that had previously accepted undocumented students.
“I had applied to NJIT to the honors college. Despite it being a state school, my advisor had some sort of connection with the honors college that before me, granted undocumented students a full ride to stay there.”
“But when I applied, things went all wrong,” Ugaz says sadly. “The president of the honors college was no longer there, and the new guy was like, ‘Yeah, sorry, no’. That’s where I thought I was going to go, but then after all that went down, I was just left in this limbo, as well as my brother.”
This took a toll on not only Ugaz and his twin brother Nicolas, but on his family as well. Ugaz recalls days where he thought all of his hard work in high school were for nothing. Despite being in the top 10 of his graduating high sc
hool class, universities and colleges would not accept him due to his lack of official citizenship. The next option Ugaz and his brother had was to apply to colleges as international students. This came with its own obstacles as well.
“We looked into a lot of schools that accepted international students because when it comes down to it, I’m considered international because I’m not from here,” Ugaz explains. “I tried to apply to the ones that offered some type of financial aid to international students.”
“It was really difficult because I’m placed into a different competitive pool with students who are from all over the world. To get into these schools, they look at how much your parents make. I’m pretty poor, so I ended up getting rejected from a lot of these schools. I had the good grades; I was number three in my graduating class in high school, but my parents’ financial background…that was what stopped me from getting accepted into these schools.”
This took its toll heavily on Christian and his brother.
“The main reason my parents came here was to provide us for a better future, so my brothers and
I, we worked really hard. When we were getting rejected by so many colleges and my parents were devastated because my brother and I were so depressed. We worked so hard and to see our hard work not even paying off was really horrible. I even considered going back to Peru.”
After all of these trials and tribulations, Ugaz finally found the opportunity to apply to school at Saint Peter’s University.
“Thankfully, I found Saint Peter’s,” he says with a smile. “My advisor told me to apply here, so I gave it a shot. I had done research here in high school, so I knew a lot of the professors. When I applied here, I was fortunate enough to receive a full academic scholarship. Someone finally seemed to want me regardless of my background.”
For Ugaz, this came as the best opportunity that he could not allow to slip. He accepted the scholarship offered by the university and is now a full-time student. Ugaz has managed to keep a positive outlook and encourages students to come out and not be afraid of being undocumented. He feels it is important for others to know that undocumented students are just like anyone else; they desire an education and are willing to work hard to receive it, just like any other documented student.
“I was tired of having to hide it. I wanted to raise awareness in this school,” he says proudly. “It’s really important for students to know that anyone could be undocumented. This is who I am, and I’m like everyone here. I’m notany different because I’m not a citizen or permanent resident. It doesn’t make me a different person or a different being.”
Regardless of the struggles that Ugaz and his family have endured, he maintains a positive outlook and believes that things will get better. He feels that undocumented students will begin to have the same treatment and opportunities as any other student in America.
“There have been way too many barriers to name,” Ugaz says. “I just have a lot of faith that things are going to get better. Something will happen that will grant some kind of status to undocumented people. We’re just like everyone else.”
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