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Interview with Undocumented Organization 21 Progress

Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education
November 2, 2015 Eden C. Tullis

21 Progress is a non-profit organization that prides itself on supporting the Undocumented community of Washington State. Located in the International District of Seattle, the group’s mission is in support of economic justice and immigration reform. Marissa Vichayapai (API DACA Coordinator) and Wendy S. Martinez Hurtado (Washington State DACA Program Manager) weigh in on the impact of the organizational services.

How do you think socioeconomic status and Undocumented status impact each other?

Marissa: You're talking about a group of people who have had rights taken away from them- their ability to work and get paid living wages without being exploited. The statistics around Undocumented folks who graduate from high school and then continue to higher education, it's like 60%.  That sets the bar for what folks are envisioning for themselves. It really limits them in terms of how far they think they can go.

Wendy: Exactly. Undocumented stories begin before crossing the border without documentation. The reason why people are doing that is because they want to provide for their family and they're not seeing the opportunities in their home country. They're already coming to the states with a low socioeconomic status and then crossing the border without documentation lessens their chances of finding jobs that suit their skills.

What was 21 Progress responding to when they created the Build Your Dream program?

Marissa: We knew that folks were applying to DACA and noticing a missing gap- that people weren’t able to pay for the application fee. You’re asking a group of folks who aren't supposed to be working to then pay nearly $500. It was really evident that this was an injustice. We were hearing the concerns from our community partners, too. When helping people fill out their applications, folks would say to them, ‘I have an application, I've seen a free immigration attorney, but I still can't meet the $465." And in some situations, one family could be submitting multiple DACA applications. The price just multiplies.

FAIR! brings awareness and attention to the Undocumented population that identifies as Asian and/or Pacific Islander- why is this important?

Marissa: I think API's live in a very different type of community than other folks that are Undocumented. There's more social capital. You have Asian businesses who are owned by Asian people. That, in itself, can make people feel like, ‘I don't need this DACA program. There's no need for me to apply and even spend the $465 for a 2 year protection.’ It creates a level of complacency in our community around worth. People begin to place themselves in a second tier citizenship. FAIR is about promoting the acknowledgment of immigrant status- that doing so doesn’t make you any less of a resident or a citizen of this city. We deserve to have a work permit and we don't deserve to live in fear that families are going to be separated. It’s a basic human right that people should migrate to find safety or protection. Anything short of that is an injustice. That's why this work is important even outside of rights that are specific to the API community.

As an organization that doesn’t just serve college-aged students, what is 21 Progress’ role in higher education?

Wendy: I'm a first generation college student and Undocumented. Neither of my parents went to college. They wanted me to go and worked really hard to get me there, but I had to find resources elsewhere because my parents didn't have the knowledge or the skills to make sure that I applied for certain colleges or scholarships. It does break that cycle of not going to college. It gives you the skills to be able to be successful and to bring your family along with you. I tend to think of students of color as part of this family, too. It's an entire community of us that's really supporting each other. That’s important and powerful.

Marissa: I also think about what kind of country I envision America to be ten or fifteen years from now. ‘What kind of country do I want my children to eventually live in?’ There are current injustices that are not going to change unless we diversify who is in decision making power. The question is, how do we get those people into decision making power? And that’s where higher education comes in. There has to be skills that are built because individuals work within systems. We need that diploma and we need that degree to open doors. It's to the benefit of our entire country that we diversify and put people in power that are going to make the changes that are going to reflect and be representative of all the people who are here.

Eden C. Tullis works in Campus Activities at South  Seattle College. She is also a regional rep for the  Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education  KC.