Define American Assists Undocumented Students in Reaching Their Potential

College is a time for identity development, but for undocumented students, this can be challenging due to their legal status. Undocumented students don’t qualify for federal grants and loans, which can make paying for college difficult, as well as the fear of deportation and isolation weighing heavily on the shoulders of many.

In 2013, Aliza Wong, a professor of History at Texas Tech, invited Define American CEO Jose Antonia Vargas to speak as part of the Open Teaching Concepts Series, where he shed light on the rarely discussed topic of undocumented students.

Saba Nafees, a doctoral candidate in Mathematical Biology from Fort Worth, invited Vargas to return in the spring of 2014 to screen his film “Documented.” This allowed attendees to see the stories behind the immigration issue, creating an extremely successful event.

After the screening, a few undocumented students from Tech came forward, sharing their stories for the first time. This gave Nafees and Vargas the idea to create the first collegiate chapter of Define American at Texas Tech University.

According to the group’s OrgSync page, the chapter aims to provide a supportive community where students can openly share their stories, and discuss what it means to be an American. The group chooses to focus on the humanitarian aspect, rather than the politics involved with immigration issues.

In October of 2017, the Define American chapter at University of Nebraska- Lincoln hosted a national summit, where leaders from 13 of the 40 active chapters gathered, including the Tech chapter president, Christopher Ponce, a senior mathematics major from Austin.

Ponce is an undocumented student who hopes to set an example for others who are afraid to step out.

“Staying quiet wasn’t going to help anyone, and one voice is louder than no voice,” he said. “Stepping out and being an example for these students is great for them and for me.”

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