LOS ANGELES — Sharet Garcia is a guidance counselor and professor at Palomar College. She is also a single mother of two who has her own business and is in the dissertation phase of her doctorate degree at Pepperdine University.
What You Need To Know
- The Undocumented Professionals Network was launched in 2019
- Around 800,000 immigrants rely on the DACA program for a work permit
- www.undocuprofessionals.net offers mentorship programs, workshops, and collaborations for some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants
- The Biden administration took a step this week to bulletproof the Deferred Action for childhood Arrivals program, after it has been challenged multiple times in court
Garcia, who is undocumented, learned at an early age that many of her successes would not come easily.
“I saw so many of my classmates leaving and going to the schools that they got accepted to. Yet, I graduated [high school] with honors and I couldn’t go to [any] one of those schools because I could not afford it. I was undocumented and I couldn’t get financial aid, and I couldn’t get scholarships,” she said.
Determined to push past the challenges, she attended community college and then transferred to UC Santa Barbara, working two jobs to pay full tuition.
“All my money would just be going to school,” she said as she choked up on her words. “Some days I didn’t have money for food, and I’ve never really shared this with anybody, but I had roommates during my undergrad and I would actually steal their food in their refrigerator because I was too embarrassed to tell them that I didn’t have [any].”
As tears rolled down her face, Garcia said she did not want them to feel sorry or bad for her.
“I would sneak in food, probably they would have handed it to me. They would have handed it to me, I’m pretty sure, but I was too embarrassed to tell them I didn’t have money,” she said.
Garcia graduated and went on to get a master's from Loyola Marymount and paid for it all out of pocket.
As she entered the job market, she was able to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Although it has helped her work legally in the U.S., Garcia has learned the hard way that not all employers like DACA because it is a temporary work permit that must be renewed every two years.
“I, for example, had to decline a job in the summer because my new DACA card wouldn’t come in-time,” she said.
Garcia is one of around 800,000 DACA recipients, but delays within the program along with politicians and courts revoking and reinstating it inspired her to launch in 2019 the Undocumented Professionals Network.
“We all go through a lot of traumas trying to navigate the systems that are not intended for the undocumented people,” she said.
Undocumented Professionals Network offers mentorship programs, workshops and collaborations for about 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Once a year, they host a conference with panelists, DACA-friendly businesses and most importantly, said Garcia, and they share the stories of engineers and filmmakers, paralegals and accountants who have overcome the shadow of their status.
“We never used to see that. We never used to have that. I wish I could have known someone that was undocumented pursuing their professional aspirations and I didn’t see that. I think that would have helped me. I think it would have helped me keep going and not feel so alone in my journey,” she said.
A journey, Garcia said, is far from over but at least now, there is a community to walk beside her.
Saturday marked the second Undocu-Professionals Conference.