By SABRINA CHEN
For The News-Letter
Growing up as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, Sofia Medina-Pardo lived in fear of deportation.
“I grew up in a time in the U.S. where there was still a lot of skepticism about disclosing your immigration status and a lot of fear,” Medina-Pardo, a senior, said. “I was undocumented and that made it difficult for me to access higher education.”
She noted that high school was one of the most difficult times in her life because she faced so many identity issues. She never disclosed her immigration status to friends, teachers or counselors.
Medina-Pardo moved from Ecuador to the U.S. with her family in 2000 for education and economic opportunity.
“The first time around we had lawyers who were incompetent, so our applications for citizenship got denied. This was after years of being in the U.S.” she said. “Not only were we faced with the possibility of deportation, but it was also a really difficult situation because you’re so limited in your ability to work and your choices for higher education.”
Since most scholarships for universities require applicants to be citizens, Medina-Pardo decided to attend a local community college in New Jersey after high school. Her family was already borrowing money from friends to pay for the immigration process and could not afford to pay full tuition at a university. Though she was not able to attend her first choice university, she said that her years at community college were moments that she treasures.
“In the honors program I met so many people who came from my same background, people who were so determined and resilient in so many different ways and who didn’t have the permanent residency or economic resources to attend a university right away,” Medina-Pardo said.
It was during her two years at community college that she found the safe space to come out publicly as undocumented. It was also in community college that Medina-Pardo started a DREAM team.
“DREAM comes out of the acronym from the DREAM Act and stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Members,” she said. “The purpose of the team was to be a safe space for undocumented students like us.”
Medina-Pardo said once the team began, it gained members rapidly. She herself got involved in many big campaigns like “United We Dream” and campaigns to pass laws in her state of New Jersey. She also continued working with her family and lawyers to obtain citizenship.
In November 2013, 14 years after they first came to America, Medina-Pardo and her family became permanent residents of the U.S. The following May she graduated from community college and transferred to Hopkins in the fall of 2014.
“For me what’s really crazy is that I became a resident right before I had to submit all my college transfer applications,” Medina-Pardo said. “It was amazing timing because many universities, like Hopkins, don’t give any sort of financial aid for undocumented students.”
Medina-Pardo said that after coming to Hopkins she thought about starting an immigrant activist group here, but because of time constraints was ultimately not able to do so. However, she hopes that the minority of undocumented students at Hopkins find places on campus where they can find people to open up to.
“I still stay connected to the DREAM team from my community college, and they are continuing to do some amazing things,” Medina-Pardo said. “I remember how scary it can be to call yourself an immigrant, and it’s so important that undocumented students have resources and can find that safe space.”