Two undocumented students receive scholarships to pursue higher education

Two De Anza College students received the national $25,000 TheDream.US scholarship. The scholarship is for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligible undocumented students working towards getting their degrees.

Brenda Pantoja, 24, business major, and Itzel Sanchez, 20, sociology and political science major, each received the scholarship. They also happen to be close friends and coworkers in the Higher Education for AB540 Students (HEFAS) program on campus.

“I was on the phone with Itzel and checking my email,” Pantoja said. “I saw the word ‘Congratulations!’ and said it out loud. That’s how Itzel found out she got the scholarship too. We both kind of found out at the same time.”

TheDream.US scholarship allows the undocumented community to better secure their financial situations in terms of education, but the criteria of the scholarship still affects which undocumented students are qualified to apply.

“I feel very privileged to have received this scholarship because only DACA recipients qualify and other undocumented folks don’t,” Pantoja said. “I’m still in that ‘pinch me I’m dreaming phase’ because it still hasn’t hit me. I feel lucky.”

Both Pantoja and Sanchez said their lives on campus as undocumented students is welcoming and resourceful. However, life off campus is still frightening, especially with the current political climate.

“I don’t feel like I’ve struggled at De Anza,” Sanchez said. “Outside, my life has been very difficult.” Sanchez said she and her family have faced unemployment, lack of housing and financial instability.

“I’m considered a DREAMer because I’m undocumented,” Pantoja said, referring to the term used to describe undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and often identify as American.

Pantoja said, “My abilities are underestimated as an undocumented person. I’ve always felt the need to work harder for the things that want.”

“I’m hoping to obtain more scholarships to reduce financial stress in order to focus more on my double major and and be part of the honors program since DREAMers don’t qualify for work study or student loans,” Sanchez said. She said the Dream.US scholarship is limited so she has to work a lot, but she hopes to decrease her hours so she can study more.

Both Pantoja and Sanchez said they will be transferring this Fall. Pantoja said she plans to attend San Jose State University in the fall and eventually receive a PhD in feminist studies from UC Santa Cruz. She hopes to come back and work for De Anza College one day.

HEFAS helps to provide resources for undocumented and low income students on campus. DACA is a program that President Obama initiated in 2012 that allows some undocumented minors to stay in the country and obtain a work permit.