Reflections from organizing the “UndocuGrads” conference in San Diego

DSC_0245Last month, on June 7 2014, the first annual UndocuGrads conference in San Diego took place. At the conference, attendees received helpful information and resources for applying to and navigating through graduate, law, and medical school. Our conference aimed to provide a holistic and in-depth look at what graduate school is like and the importance of our communities having access to higher education. We especially highlighted that our voices matter and that we have the power to create the change we want to see in/for our communities. All information/presentations were tailored to undocumented and DACAmented students. In the previous years, GRADD members have organized similar commendable events in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The UndocuGrads conference was not under the umbrella of a sole organization, however, it could not have been possible without the support of many students, professors, organizers, schools, organizations (including GRADD), and community members. In this post, I hope to share a glimpse of the vision and planning stage of our UndocuGrads conference.


My official letter of acceptance from Harvard!

I came to the U.S. when I was twelve years old and have since navigated the educational system as an undocumented student. Most recently, I was accepted into Harvard University for my Ph.D. in Education and will begin my studies this Fall 2014. I like to remind folks that I have not gotten to this stage alone. At every step, I have received tremendous support, guidance, and mentorship from many of you- my community.

(For updates about my doctoral studies, please check my “UndocuPhD” category)

Through my educational pursuits (including research, teaching, and organizing), I am committed to give back to my community. I created this online blog when I began my graduate studies at San Diego State University. In doing so, I hoped (and still do) that I could share with others my experience, as well as helpful information and resources regarding higher education, immigration, and more.

Earlier this year, March 29 to be exact, I took action on something I had been reflecting on over time- Pursuing a higher education comes with many challenges for underserved and underrepresented students given our immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, class, and more. We all need to do our part in bridging the path between higher education institutions and communities.

I took my idea to Facebook

I took my idea to Facebook

One way to do this over the summer, before I left to Boston for my Ph.D., was to put together the first conference in San Diego all about the graduate, law, and medical school application process and experience, tailored to undocumented students.

And so with a clear vision in mind, it all began to unfold… rapidly.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 12.45.43 AMOur planning committee of seven former, current, and prospective graduate students, took on the challenging task of planning this one-day conference (without funds) over a series of weekly night meetings in April and May. Together, we registered over 100 folks from all across California, secured food and beverages, requested information and gear from several graduate programs across the U.S., invited key presenters to join us, and much more.

From organizers, supporters, presenters, volunteers, to attendees, we were (and still are) all committed to bridging the gap between higher education institutions and communities. Organizing, supporting, presenting, volunteering, and attending this conference are the ways through which we all contributed to addressing this issue of access, attainment, representation, and more. We gathered on June 7th ready to discuss with, learn from, and reflect among each other. The space we created for undocumented students- an underserved and marginalized population within and outside of the educational system- provided the opportunity for many to also share their undocumented status without fear, shame, or uncertainty.

We hope this conference set the stage for many more to come, where issues affecting undocumented immigrants will be at the forefront of our conversations. We are also excited to learn that several universities are interested in hosting the UndocuGrads conference in the near future. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. Be sure to find more information and updates at our official website:


When should I renew my DACA?

USCIS has released DACA renewal forms and more details about the process, read more in my previous post “Renew Your DACA!“.

Because it will take time for our DACA renewals to process and there is an expiration date on our current work permits, USCIS advices that we submit our renewal request about 120 days (4 months) before your current period of deferred action will expire. NOTE- If you submit your request more than 150 days (5 months) before your current period expires, USCIS may reject it and return it to you with instructions to resubmit it closer to the expiration date.

To know your exact one-month window period to renew your DACA, I highly recommend using the National Immigration Law Center’s DACA renewal calculator. All you need to do is enter your work permit’s expiration date and it provides you with the exact one-month period that you should renew your DACA.

NOTE- If you miss your one-month window, you can still apply for your DACA renewal. The best time for you to submit your DACA renewal application to USCIS is 120 to 150 days before the date your current DACA and EAD expire. If you apply within this window of time and USCIS delays processing your application, USCIS may provide you deferred action and work authorization for a short period of time until a decision is made on your case.

Renew your DACA!

USCIS announced today the process and forms for renewing DACA!


Who can renew their DACA?

You may request a renewal if you continue to meet the initial DACA guidelines and you:

  • Did not depart the United States on or after Aug. 15, 2012, without advance parole;
  • Have continuously resided in the United States since you submitted your most recent DACA request that was approved; and
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

When should you renew your DACA?

You should submit your renewal request about 120 days (4 months) before your current period of deferred action will expire. NOTE- If you submit your request more than 150 days (5 months) before your current period expires, USCIS may reject it and return it to you with instructions to resubmit it closer to the expiration date.

NOTE- The total cost of renewing is $465! Start saving if need be.

For further details about HOW to renew your DACA, additional documents to submit with your renewal application, and much more, please visit the official USCIS website: “Renew your DACA”

If this is the first time you are requesting DACA, visit “Request DACA for the first time

For questions, concerns, and more information about the DACA renewal process, make sure to join United We Dream’s free live DACA renewal broadcast TOMORROW June 6th! Also, check out the DACA Renewal Network.


New findings released from survey about, and created by, undocumented youth

Findings from our recent survey, “In Their Own Words: A Nationwide Survey of Undocumented Millennials”, have been released today!

About the survey: It is one of the largest surveys to date on any segment of the undocumented population in the U.S. The survey provides new insights related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, life after DACA, and the experience of “coming out” as undocumented, as well as a first-of-its-kind look at the civic engagement and political incorporation of undocumented youth, among several other important topics. The survey attracted 3,139 responses nationwide, of which we have confidence that 1,472 of those responses were provided by undocumented young people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. The survey was fielded online in two phases during late 2013 and early 2014. Read more here.

Selected key findings from our survey:

Just over two-thirds of respondents (69%) report having their education delayed because of their undocumented status.

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DACA’s $465 Bi-Annual Recurring Fee Imposes a Significant Burden

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.19.11 AMRespondents, on average, identify $200 as being an affordable DACA renewal fee. Paying for DACA is a family and community expense with just over half (51%) of respondents reporting that they paid for their fees on their own.

The recurring nature of DACA application fees is an increasingly large financial burden. 36% of respondents report that the costs associated with their first DACA application caused a delay in applying for the program—the average length of this delay was three months. 51% say that a $465 fee to renew DACA will impose a financial hardship on themselves or their families. This financial hardship, coupled with the hard deadline for DACA renewals, could very well impact DACA retention rates.

Undocumented Millennials Are Highly Politically and Civically Engaged
Many respondents do not remain in the shadows when it comes to political participation and civic engagement. 41% of respondents participated in a political rally or demonstration compared to just 6% of voters surveyed in the 2012 American National Election Study (ANES). In other words, respondents were 7 times more likely to have participated in a rally or demonstration than average American voters.

A Path to Citizenship or Relief from Deportation?

When asked which is MOST important, a path to citizenship or relief from deportation, 14% choose a path to citizenship, 28% choose relief from deportation, but 57% choose “Our community deserves both and should not have to choose one or the other”.

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Read more about these and more findings at:

More information and updates about the survey coming soon!


The survey was commissioned by Unbound Philanthropy and the Own the Dream Research Institute at United We Dream (OTDRI). Professor Tom K. Wong, Ph.D. serves as the Primary Investigator for the Own the Dream Research Institute and created and directed all aspects of the survey project. He was assisted by OTDRI’s Senior Research Associate Carolina Valdivia, an undocumented youth leader of United We Dream and the San Diego Dream Team. Further assistance was provided by Nancy Guarneros, Alma Martinez, and Iliana Perez. Respondent recruitment was led by staff and volunteers of the United We Dream Network.


“Traveling Abroad with Advanced Parole: A Guide for DACA Beneficiaries”

Have you been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and want to travel abroad?

You have to apply for Advanced Parole first. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 6.00.35 PMI highly recommend reading Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC)’s newly released guide with a lot of helpful information, testimonies, and advice regarding the process.

In particular, you will find information on:

  • “What is Advanced Parole?”
  • “Frequently Asked Questions/Tips to Apply for Advanced Parole”
  • “Sample Declarations for Advanced Parole Requests”
  • and much more!

Also, don’t forget to register for E4FC’s FREE live webinar on Tuesday, May 27th, 6:30PM – 8:00PM (PST), where participants can ask questions and hear Ju Hong’s personal testimonial about his personal trip to South Korea. He will be joining the webinar live from South Korea! Register here:



May updates

Hi all,

It has been a while since my last update, but I am back and here are a few quick exciting news:

First set of results from our national survey about, and created by, undocumented youth will be released next week! Stay tuned!

I completed my role as an Own The Dream (OTD) field organizer in San Diego and despite all of the long days, meetings, limitations, and distractions thrown our way… I am going to miss it very much!

IMG_7335Earlier this year I joined our San Diego Dream Team-OTD team and was able to help plan and carry out outreach efforts, informational sessions, DACA-related presentations, and DACA clinics. Through this opportunity I was able to not only strengthen my organizing skills, but above all I was able to inform others about DACA and help eligible folks throughout their application process. One of the many takeaways from my time doing DACA work in San Diego is definitely- Even with a limited budget, small team, and few resources- you make it happen because you are working with and for the community that is directly being impacted in multiple ways by immigration-related policies… My passion to help undocumented folks is never-ending <3.

Highlight of my experience has definitely been getting to know/help DACA eligible folks who had been told in the past, “You don’t qualify because you have a criminal record” (*Note- one that was not a felony, DUI, or 3 serious misdemeanors, which meant they were not ineligible for DACA). It has been a pleasure providing information and resources to those facing emotional, financial, and legal barriers. I am looking forward to volunteering when I can during the summer.

I got the amazing opportunity to speak to a very inspiring and passionate crowd about graduate school, research, sociology, and being an undocumented womyn of color at this year’s California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education. While I encountered a couple of micro-aggressions (not from the audience), photo (2)everything else about my visit at the forum was amazing. I got a chance to catch up and chat with my friends, as well as connect with students interested in pursuing graduate school. My highlight after every presentation is definitely meeting/hearing from students. I particularly love connecting with undocumented students and learning how I can be of help in their higher educational pursuits. I met quite a few after this last presentation so I am looking forward to having follow-up conversations. If you are considering graduate school, here is a little bit of what I shared during my talk:

The experience in graduate school can be, and will most likely feel, isolating, particularly if you are undocumented and/or a student of color. However, do not let that hold you back. Throughout my own educational journey I keep reminding myself that even though I was the only undocumented student in my Master’s program cohort and the only undocumented and Latina womyn in my Ph.D. cohort, I [we] belong in these spaces. 

This brings me to my next update… Organizing of the first conference for undocumented folks interested in graduate school in San Diego is underway. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 1.48.09 AM

I am very excited to have the opportunity to plan this conference alongside 6 amazing mujeres! We have received a lot of help and support from professors, students, organizers, and administrators. I can’t wait to share all of the information and resources regarding preparing for, applying to, and attending graduate school!

IMG_5354In more bittersweet news, I have ~2 months left in San Diego. I already have planned quite a few get togethers, events, and relaxing times with my family and friends. But despite the number of days I get to spend time with loved ones during these last two months in San Diego, it won’t be enough… I am going to miss being surrounded by their energy and presence! At the same time, I am preparing for the move to Boston as best as I can. I am also very excited!

Last, but not least—> My blog series of posts with information and resources for undocumented folks interested in graduate school is back! Check out the first post, “Prep for grad school: Recommended readings“. Even if you are unsure that graduate school is for you, or if you are preparing to apply in the near or far future- I highly recommend checking out the readings I mention. They have helped me tremendously throughout this journey.