She still vividly remembers the day she went to fifth grade in the United States because it was the day that two boys slapped her across the face and laughed saying, “Go back to Mexico.”
Lillian Cañedo is an undocumented immigrant who left Mexico with her family when she was 10 years old and arrived in the U.S. without speaking a word of English.
“I remember being scared and anxious when I first walked into my fifth-grade classroom,” Cañedo said. “In school, I was able to spend all day learning the language, do regular class work and before I knew it, I was reading and writing at the same level as my classmates within one year.”
In Arizona, Cañedo is part of the Dream Act Coalition, which fights for immigrant rights for young undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
The Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC) began with a group of Arizona State University students who wanted to share their stories as undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have yet to receive legal citizenship.
“Undocumented immigrants were finding it difficult to attend ASU due to the high tuition costs caused by Proposition 300,” Cañedo said. “This proposition stipulated that college students who are not legal in the U.S. are not eligible for financial assistance using state money.”
ASU undergraduate resident tuition for the 2013-2014 academic year is $10,002 and undergraduate non-resident tuition is $23,654, and that’s not including books, supplies, room and board, and personal expenses.
Undocumented students on the Tempe campus would have to pay a total cost of $38,752 to attend college, according to the ASU undergraduate tuition and fees schedule.
It wasn’t until Cañedo thought about attending college that she realized what her undocumented status meant for her. Being an undocumented immigrant meant that she was ineligible for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, grants and scholarships.
She had to work two part-time jobs in high school to fund her college tuition at Arizona State.
Cañedo went to ASU to study business at the W.P. Carey School of Business in the fall of 2008.
“I must say it was one of the happiest days of my life,” Cañedo said. “I had the ability to attend part time and work two different jobs in order to pay the high tuition of $7,000 per semester for only two classes.”
In 2006, when Arizona passed Proposition 300, undocumented immigrants were forced to pay out-of-state tuition and were unable to apply for merit-based scholarships.
During the fall of 2006, the cost of out-of-state tuition was $7,875 compared to in-state tuition, which was $2,296, according to Arizona State University Tuition and Fees Schedules.
Proposition 300 prompted the group of ASU students to begin the coalition.
“It tripled the tuition for undocumented students in Arizona,” said Carmen Cornejo, an advisor with the ADAC. “As a result, a group of students affected by the provision of this law got together.”
The coalition began in 2006 and was based on the Dream Act. The Dream Act fights for young, undocumented immigrants that are unable to get permanent legal status because they were not born in the U.S.
“The ADAC had a wider vision of inclusion of other students affected by the immigration education policies, integrating community college and high school students too,” Cornejo said.
It has helped undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. obtain a renewable, two-year deferred action that provides easier access to financial aid, scholarships and jobs, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“The ADAC (Arizona Dream Act Coalition) is an all volunteer organization and so far does not pay salary for its work,” Cornejo said. “We are in the process to request a nonprofit status, which will allow us to capture more and bigger donations and grow.”
As of June 30, 2013, 400,562 undocumented immigrants had been approved by the program, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Cornejo said the organization had changed immigration reform by stopping young undocumented immigrants from being deported if they met specific criteria.
However, ASU made it almost impossible for undocumented immigrants to attend school in 2008.
ASU prohibited state and federal scholarships and grants from undocumented immigrants. Alumni and parents decided to create their own fund to support students’ tuition.
“The ASU announcement made the students get together and organize a fight for their rights,” Cornejo said.
Cañedo grew up in a neighborhood that was primarily white in Chandler.
“People there were really not undocumented and I didn’t have the resources to know about the coalition or talk to them,” Cañedo said.
She joined the coalition in 2008 and was able to attend ASU, while working and taking online classes.
“The only financial aid that I was able to get was with the help of Carmen Cornejo,” Cañedo said. “I was given the Chicanos Por La Causa scholarship that was worth $5,000 that allowed me to finish my last semester.”
Tufts United for Immigrant Justice
A team from Tufts University in Medford, Maine, have started a campaign to fund undocumented students tuition. Zobella Vinik is the president of Tufts United for Immigrant Justice.
“We have been doing research all semester and will start the campaign in the fall to begin a scholarship fund for undocumented students,” Vinik said. “We are both inspired and supported by the Student Immigration Movement.”
Current ASU students and graduates have become involved in not just the coalition, but also other youth-led organizations that fight for immigration rights and reform.
The coalition has led ASU graduate Cañedo to other positions in organizations that fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
In 2012, she became an organizer with the United Dream Network and worked on Deferred Action workshops to help undocumented students get financial assistance in school.
“I am very focused on comprehensive immigration reform and to also get more people involved,” Cañedo said. “Even though we have come out of the shadows with Dreamers and the Deferred Action workshops, there’s still a lot of people that don’t know what resources they have.”
The coalition is focused on raising awareness by listing the resources they have on their website and promoting through college campuses.
“There are so many undocumented immigrants in Arizona and we are trying to get new Dreamers, especially parents,” Cañedo said. “We want comprehensive immigration reform in order to help our parents and other students get legal status.”
In the past year, Cañedo was able to help undocumented immigrants learn their voting rights in Phoenix and Mesa. Undocumented immigrants living in the United States are unable to vote in Arizona.
“Through the ‘I am a DREAM voter’ campaign, I was able to guide and train volunteers to canvass Phoenix and Mesa in order to inform the Latino community about the importance of voting and registered Latinos to vote,” Cañedo said.
Creating free workshops to train and inform volunteers and undocumented immigrants is the cornerstone of her work in Phoenix.
No Dream Deferred campaign
“As leader of the No Dream Deferred (NDD) campaign, I helped in creating free workshops that offered pro-bono services to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants in the state of Arizona,” Cañedo said. “I participated in the design and implementation of the training programs for volunteers that took part in the DACA drives throughout the valley.”
In the past several years, Cañedo has spoken to local schools, churches and during public events in Phoenix and Mesa.
“I have given numerous presentations regarding DACA, the Dream Act and the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform at different public schools, churches and public events,” Cañedo said. “I have had the ability to interact with a diverse range of people including local activists, senators and state representatives on issues facing the state of Arizona.”
Cañedo is a community activist who informs Arizona residents about legislation that hinders undocumented immigrants from resident rights.
“I joined the fight against SB 1070 and cuts to public education by canvassing Mesa in support of the Recall Russell Pearce Campaign,” Cornejo said.
Getting involved with campaigns that stop legislation affecting undocumented immigrants was something Cañedo actively pursued.
“As part of my passion, I delivered FOIA requests seeking information on ASU’s investments in order to determine if ASU had invested in any companies complicit in human right abuses in Darfur, the Congo, Israel-Palestine, or sweatshops worldwide,” Cañedo said.
The Arizona Dream Act Coalition has pushed legislation in Arizona to help undocumented immigrants get the same benefits as U.S. residents, such as college tuition prices.
“The coalition has made MCCCD (Maricopa County Community College District) more sensitive to the need to offer in-state-tuition below seven credits,” Cornejo said.
This year, the coalition is trying to stop deportations by traveling to Washington D.C.
“Youth are speaking out for their rights and we are continuing to work on the litigation with Jan Brewer,” Cornejo said.
Cañedo now works as an immigration paralegal in Phoenix and wants to help undocumented immigrants and their families gain legal status in Arizona.
• Angela Crusco is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.