Ana Maciel

Ana Maciel played a role in establishing the AB540 and Undocumented Center.

Ana Maciel played a role in establishing the AB540 and Undocumented Center.

A harsh reality once stood between Ana Maciel of Soledad, California, and her dream of a college education: She is an undocumented immigrant. In addition, Maciel is a first-generation student and grew up in a single-parent family. Not many people in her community had gone on to pursue an education, making her pursuit much more difficult.

Now, just a few years later, the junior is living that dream at UC Davis, and has played a role in establishing the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center to help others like herself through their obstacles to a university education.

"It means so much," said Maciel, a junior majoring in Chicana/o studies and political science. "It means a central location where students can see they're represented on campus and there are other people like them."

AB540 refers to a California state law, passed in 2001, that exempts students from paying nonresident college tuition (which is costlier than resident tuition) if they have attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated from a California high school and met other requirements. 

For Maciel, studying at a world-class university and helping others do the same is a long way from her native Irapuato, a city in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. She was told an uncle brought her across the border in 1997, and her mother crossed through the desert. Her childhood memories include long drives to her mother's deportation hearings.

Maciel said she always loved school and wanted to go to a university. But when her high school teacher asked his class to bring in their parents' documents so they could apply for federal student aid, she knew her family didn't have the documents.

Paying for her daughter's college seemed daunting to a single mother of four who worked in the fields and cared for other people's children. Maciel's mother could help her through the first quarter. Private scholarships would help, too.

Just about the time spring quarter fees were due that first year, Maciel learned she was among the first cohort of students to benefit from the new California Dream Act, which allows AB540 undocumented students to qualify for state and UC-funded aid.

"It was a huge relief," Maciel said. "I knew I wouldn't have to focus on money at finals. I was just so happy to be here."

In 2013, Maciel was granted deferred action on removal from the United States and permission to work under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Since then, she's worked at a clothing store in Salinas and as a research assistant. This year, in addition to her job at the center, she'll also serve as an academic peer adviser in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Maciel is enthusiastic about the year ahead. She's eager to watch the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center come to life. And as co-chair of Students Promoting Education, Awareness and Knowledge (SPEAK), she wants to continue to advocate for affordable housing, grants and scholarships to provide more help for undocumented students.

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