EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University is trying to create a more welcoming environment for some of its most vulnerable students: those who are undocumented immigrants.
Many of these students have lived in the United States for most of their lives. Some days they feel American. Other days they feel left out.
"It was very difficult, because there's the students who look like me speak the same languages as I do, but we still had very different experiences. And that was very challenging for me," said Brenda Pilar, an MSU student who used to be part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives temporary protection from deportation to people who came to the U.S. under circumstances beyond their control.
Pilar's family is from Mexico and came to Michigan when she was two months old. She was a DACA student before receiving her green card in 2019. She is now a senior majoring in psychology and political science pre-law.
"I had to grow as an individual, but it was very frustrating even after applying and providing documentation that I grew up in Michigan and have been here my entire life," Pilar said. "I actually was denied in-state tuition. And I remember receiving that email and I just cried. I felt like giving up. But after a few minutes of wiping my tears off, I called the Office of Admissions and was able to talk to someone who finally granted me in-state tuition."
When Pilar became part of the DACA program, she said it helped her out a lot. She was granted a Social Security number, which allowed her to work and pay for school.
MSU officials say they don't know how many undocumented students are on campus.
"Since these particular individuals do not receive federal financial aid, there's really no way to track them," explained Luis Alonso Garcia, director of Migrant Students Services.
But MSU President Samuel Stanley has been working on ways to make them feel included on campus. The university has launched a website that includes campus services along with scholarship resources.
"When I arrived on campus, I was one of the very first DACA recipients that a lot of counselors came across. They literally told me you're the first DACA recipient. I don't know anyone else, I don't know what resources to provide to you or who to connect you with," Pilar said.
Along with MSU's new website, Garcia said there's an employee in the financial aid office who helps students who are in the country illegally find donor scholarships, because they are not eligible for federal financial aid.
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