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‘College is possible’ — LAUSD teacher who is undocumented encourages Latino parents to help their children persevere

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | November 2, 2017

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Maria Lopez Lozano, right, an LA Unified teacher protected under DACA, shares her experience with parents on Thursday at Families In Schools Alliance conference in Los Angeles.

As an undocumented student in her San Bernardino high school, Maria Lopez Lozano was told by her school counselor she couldn’t go to college.

She went anyway, graduated from UC Irvine, and now teaches in LA Unified.

As a “DACAmented” teacher — as she called herself for being undocumented and a DACA recipient — she is determined to make sure her high school students know their immigration status will not keep them from college.

“It’s very sad for me to hear my undocumented students saying they didn’t know they can go to college. They never heard from counselors or teachers or even their parents that they can have access to higher education. That means it is a failure in the (school) system,” she said.

“It’s been an uphill battle, it still is now at UCLA while I’m working on my master’s degree as an undocumented student, but I hope my story is an example for my students that going to college is possible for them,” said Lopez Lozano, who teaches history at Frida Kahlo High School in central Los Angeles.

She told her story Thursday to more than 100 parents, mostly Latinos, who attended the Families In Schools 2017 Alliance summit in downtown Los Angeles. Lopez Lozano, who is currently working toward her master’s degree in education at UCLA, urged the parents to “continue your efforts to support your kids to overcome their fear of being undocumented.”

She said the support of her parents — Mexican immigrants who brought her to the United States when she was 18 months old — was crucial for her to overcome obstacles as an undocumented student.

Maria Lopez Lozano with her parents at the conference.

“My parents were always by my side, they always made me feel that my status didn’t matter for me to have an education and become a teacher one day. I want parents to know that their support is critical for their students to feel safe and aspire for college.”

During a workshop at the conference, parents learned about how to support their undocumented children in pursuing college and how to make sure they can be protected in schools.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, was created by executive order in 2012 by President Obama for undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as minors. It was rescinded by President Trump on Sept. 5, which will leave about 800,000 youth and young adults without protection from deportation or work permits after March 5, unless Congress passes the Dream Act, which would bring back those protections.

Sylvia Torres-Guillen, ACLU’s director of education equity, advised parents to help their undocumented children supporting the passage of a “clean” Dream Act by calling their members of Congress and signing a petition.

In September, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” in Los Angeles that she expected Congress to pass the Dream Act before Thanksgiving.

But on Thursday, President Trump told Republican senators not to allow a solution addressing the legal status of “Dreamers” to be a part of a must-pass year-end spending bill.

María Zamora, a mother of an 11th-grade student at The Accelerated School, an independent charter school in South LA, said even though her daughter was born in the U.S., she’s affected by the immigration climate and her undocumented peers at school.

“She’s morally and emotionally affected by what her undocumented friends and classmates are going through these days,” the mother said.

“Parents should have the conversations with their kids about being undocumented, so they don’t feel like they have nothing else to do, that their status limits them when that’s not true. Talk to them about AB 540 (state law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition), other options they have, help them build the support system they need.”

Lopez Lozano found out that she was undocumented while in high school. She said she was able to build that network of support that helped her graduate and go to college. She is currently protected under DACA, but she’s uncertain about her future as her permit will expire in June.

“I don’t let my students worry. I tell them you will have me for sure until the end of the school year,” she said. “I tell them that didn’t stop me from following my dreams and that they shouldn’t let it stop them either.”

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