The Dream Lives On For UNLV Students

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Picture of Nayelli Rico Lopze at DACA Renewal & Citizenship Resources Fair at UNLV. Photo by Usiel Teran

As the nation’s largest college access and success program for DACA and undocumented youth, The Dream.US is partnering now with the UNLV. Now, DACA students will be eligible to attend UNLV with this new scholarship opportunity that will pay for their tuition.

The Dream.US is a non-profit with funds that many times comes from private donors. For almost a decade, about 6,500 college scholarships have been awarded to those dreamers attending one of the more than 70 partner colleges in 19 states including Washington D.C. As of 2020, there have been more than 1,700 graduates who have obtained a bachelor’s degree through this scholarship. 

One of those dreamers is Nayelli Rico Lopez, a resource coordinator for the Undocumented Student Program at UNLV. Rico Lopez’s labor consists of supporting the undocumented student population on campus. 

“Our program aims to support our undocumented student population both on campus and the community.” Lopez said. “We have appointments if they require any of our services which include advising, social support, referrals to internal and external organizations and how to fill out alternate determination need form. We have events that focus on undocumented issues or topics.”

“We also have different programs within the office such as the UndocuAlly training for students, faculty and staff so they can all work together to understand the struggles undocumented students face,” Lopez continued. 

The new scholarship extended its deadline this past March 7. By the end of the school year, a minimum of ten DACA recipients will be awarded this scholarship, with a possibility of more students being awarded this scholarship. In order to be eligible, applicants must be first time college students or community college graduates looking to obtain a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. 

Also, students attending Nevada State College or UNR that haven’t surpassed 21 credits before the fall can transfer over to UNLV. The students’ status can be DACA, TPS or undocumented that came to the United States before Nov. 1, 2016, before the age of 16. 

“The immigrant community usually doesn’t talk openly about their immigration experiences, specifically undocumented immigrants.” Lopez said. “It’ll be nice for them to see that they’re not the only ones going through the same struggles. It’ll motivate them to move forward. Students often feel like they’re left alone in the dark, this will be that glimmer of light for them.” 

“I think it’ll be a big game changer and just by being chosen as a scholarship recipient they see it as someone investing in them or that they see something in them that they may not see in themselves which inspires them,” Lopez said. 

One UNLV student with an undocumented status is Blanca Pena Nevarez, a first generation college student who migrated from Chihuahua, Mexico. She plans to graduate this May with honors in criminal justice. 

She has spent her entire collegiate career at UNLV and has been a part of numerous organizations on campus such as the Mock Trial Competition Team, UNLV iGNiTE (which she helped co-found and became the president for) and the UNLV Student Organization of Latinxs (which she  also helped co-found and became the vice president for). 

Nevarez currently presides as the senate president for CSUN which is UNLV’s undergraduate student government. She hasn’t let her legal status affect her dreams of achieving a college degree. 

“People deserve to be able to pursue their dream career or simply expand their knowledge on anything they’re interested in,” Nevarez said. “For DACA recipients specifically though, it’s sad to admit but those in the disenfranchised minorities always have to work ten times harder, maybe even more than that, than their white and/or more privileged counterparts. Getting an education is perhaps the best and most stable pathway towards success for immigrants and therefore makes for such a necessary component.” 

Throughout her college career, Nevarez has been unable to get a paid job but her determination for growth has served her in obtaining an unpaid internship for the office of Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV). As senate president, she managed to garner attention on the issue regarding unpaid student workers. 

She was able to create a resolution through the Nevada Student Alliance urging NSHE to provide undocumented/DACA students with more resources, as well as a yearly $10,000 CSUN sponsorship for Undocunetwork to give $500 to students in need of paying their biannual DACA-renewal fees. Both of these pieces of legislation passed unanimously.

Nevarez has paved the way for future DACA/undocumented students that want to take part in leadership roles at UNLV. 

“I’m not sure what the future holds for either myself or the scholarship recipients, however, I hope that this country does better in regards to how they treat us,” Nevarez said. “I hope that after we all pursue our education here, we are able to find jobs, make a proper living, are enfranchised, recognized, cared for, and most importantly, seen as humans regardless of where we came from, how we got here, and what our citizenship status is.”

This story is a student submission and is in no way associated with the paper.

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