Ada Marys Lorenzana was brought to Chicago from Mexico when she was a toddler.
But she learned early on not to tell anyone where she was born.
Her father told her to tell everyone she was born here.
She went to a good high school, Lane Tech College Prep, but by the end of high school, she had to accept that she she was not like her classmates.
“Living undocumented, the only way I can compare it to is living as an actor,” Lorenzana said. “I didn’t have to take off that mask until my senior year. Up until that point, I was going to a great high school, I thought I was going to get into the best university I was on honor roll, I had everything a university would expect but a social security number. Because of that, I got denied countless scholarships. I got accepted to all the schools I wanted, but ultimately, I had to say no to every single one because there was just not enough money.”
Lorenzana opted for attending Harold Washington College and getting involved in the pro-immigration movement. She was part of the annual Coming Out of the Shadows action at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This action was organized by the Fearless Undocumented Alliance and it has origins with similar groups of undocumented students going back to 2010 as part of a nationwide effort to unite students. The annual event features students disclosing their legal status, many for the first time in public.
Of the 31,683 undergraduate students attending UIC, about 300 are undocumented, according to officials.
Around the country, undocumented college students have been organizing this type of action for the past nine years. Students have been pushing the immigration movements forward with activities that at times have been labeled radical, including crossing the border and documenting conditions inside detention centers near the border.
Under former President Barack Obama, undocumented students received temporary protection from deportation under DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. In Illinois, these students have successfully won campaigns to pay in-state tuition at colleges, established a private scholarship fund for college students and encouraged the state to grant driving licenses to undocumented immigrants.
This year, the students are advocating for the Retention Illinois Student and Equity (Rise) Act. The bill would help undocumented students receive state aid for college. The bill also seeks to increase retention rates for transgender students and other underrepresented students. The bill passed the House last week and now it is waiting for a vote in the Senate.
Undocumented students don’t quality for any state or federal aid. The only aid they have access to is private gift funding and some scholarships.
Retention rates for Latino students is about 75 percent and 70 percent for black students between their first year and third year.
The students also made four demands to UIC’s administration. First, for the Center for Student Involvement to respect spaces undocumented students use. Second, mandatory training for UIC’s staff to understand the needs of undocumented students. Third, for the university to stop all collaboration with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Fourth, create a center for undocumented students that provides mental health services.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter at @mizamudio.