On the morning of October 29, 2008, Oscar Sarabia woke up to the sound of ICE agents knocking on his door.
It was 7:30 in the morning and they asked for his identification card, as well as that of his mothers. When they could not provide them to the federal authorities, they were handcuffed, shoved into a van and driven to the downtown Sacramento jail.
“That drive was the longest 20 minute drive of my life. I can’t describe to you in detail the fear, the helplessness, the feeling of disempowerment and profound sadness that my mother and I felt. There are simply no words to describe those feelings,” said Sarabia.
That same day, Sarabia and his mother were fingerprinted, placed on a bus and within the span of 6 hours, were deported back to México—a country he had not lived in since the age of five.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” said Sarabia.
Last Saturday, he was one of several students who had the opportunity to share his personal story through a documentary titled, “We are not strangers to this land: Untold Stories of DREAMERS” at the third annual ‘Beyond the Dream’ Conference.
Nearly 150 students gathered at Woodland Community College to hear stories of DREAMERS who have overcome significant odds on their journey toward earning a college degree. Attendees came to learn about financial aid, how to apply to college, what scholarships and other financial resources are available to them, and what California laws stand to benefit them.
“You would be surprised to learn how many students still think that because they are undocumented, they can’t go to college,” said Dr. Rhonda Rios Kravitz, Dean Emeritus and ALIANZA Board Member.
“It gets to me every time when a student comes up to me and says they can’t go to college because they are not here ‘legally’. We are changing all of that because it is simply not true.”
A few years ago and with the help of Kravitz, Sarabia and several other students from Sacramento City College decided to form ALIANZA, an organization dedicated to helping DREAMers pave their path toward a college degree.
The reason ALIANZA launched the DREAMer conference back in 2012 was to help debunk myths about being undocumented, provide information to DREAMers about applying to college, but most importantly, to inspire them to not stop on their journey toward earning a college degree.
“When they sit here and listen to the stories of people who are in their same shoes and who have had the same experiences as they have, but chose to overcome the odds; it does something to them. They feel empowered and more encouraged to not stop on their journey because if they can see someone else who could do it, so can they,” said Kravitz.
Kravitz points to many local students as role models in the DREAM movement.
Sarabia’s story, she said, is one that is all too common.
“He moved around every four months with his family out of fear of being deported. His family is one of farm workers. He has always lived in fear because of his status, but that has never stopped him. He has a strong will, desire and determination to fulfill his dreams,” said Kravitz.
On August 30, 2012, Sarabia returned to the United States thanks to a Visa provided to his father who was able to bring the family back from México.
Life was challenging back in the states.
“It was a culture shock for me after going back to México City, where most of my family is from. At first my mom and I were in Mexicali for some time until we were victims to drug traffickers who extorted us. It was a rough life in México,” recalls Sarabia.
“You can’t imagine how happy I felt to be coming back. But the transition wasn’t easy.”
Sarabia didn’t waste any time upon his return.
He quickly came back to Sacramento, reunited with his family and enrolled at Sacramento Community College. In just two years and with a 3.95 GPA, he applied and successfully transfered to a four year institution.
He was accepted to Stanford University. They offered him a full academic scholarship. As a student studying public policy, Sarabia’s next step is applying to law school.
“I want to practice immigration law to help those who find themselves in my shoes,” said Sarabia, 28.
Kravitz, who is passionate about DREAMers and is dedicated to ensuring they successfully graduate from high school and pursue a college degree, is trying to change the conversation about undocumented students.
Using the term ‘undocuscholars’ is important, she said, especially when trying to get DREAMers on the path to college and considering their outstanding academic successes despite the tremendous challenges they face without legal status.
She points to the facts.
There are approximately 2.5 million undocumented youth living in the United States. Each year 80,000 undocumented youth turn 18 years of age. About 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from high school, of which only 5-10 percent enroll in college.
Of these undocumented youth enrolled in college only 1 to 3 percent graduate each year. The numbers are small, but what truly sets undocumented students apart from their peers is their unique thirst for academic success.
Despite their low college enrollment numbers, DREAMers in the United States have higher GPA’s compared to their counterparts (3.0 or above or B average).
Undocumented students at a four year public university have 86 percent higher GPA’s compared to the national rate of 51.5. Those in a four-year private school have an 84.6 percent higher GPA compared to 66.5 of the national average and those in a two-year public university/college have a 79.4 percent higher GPA compared to the national average of 50.6.
Andrew Truman Kim, Campaign Manager for Congressman John Garamendi was the keynote speaker and told students at the conference that they should be focused on establishing daily, weekly, and monthly goals in order to fulfill their dreams.
“If you don’t have a goal, and you don’t know how to reach that goal, then you won’t reach it. You always need to have a solid plan written on paper, and know how you are going to achieve your goal and then you need to create more goals to fulfill your ultimate dream,” said Kim.
“Anything can be done when you set your mind to it.”