At 11 years old, Miguel Pimentel and his siblings left Puruarán in Michoacán, Mexico, to reunite with their parents in the United States after being separated for two years. Pimentel and his siblings immigrated to the United States as undocumented children, an experience that would motivate Pimentel for the rest of his life.
Pimentel’s professional and personal experiences with the struggles of navigating academia as an undocumented student have led him to LPC’s new Dream Center, room 1018. Pimental, the program coordinator, is excited to begin his journey with students at LPC. The Dream Center provides “a safe and physical space for undocumented students, AB 540 students, DACA students or DACA recipients, and also students that are coming from mixed status families,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel recalls the difficulties he faced after immigrating. “I remember being discriminated against because I didn’t speak any word of English. I remember being bullied in school because of the language barrier,” Pimentel said.“It was just a lot getting accustomed to the United States education system.”
Pimentel conquered the hurdles thrown at him and graduated high school and college. He attended college at California State University East Bay. However, throughout the duration of his time at college, there were few resources that he was able to take advantage of due to his undocumented status. “Back then we didn’t really have resources available for undocumented students compared to now,” Pimentel said.
He went on to earn his M.A. Degree in Education/Counseling and Student Personnel from San Jose State University.
The Dream Center can aid students with DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is a program that protects around 800,000 young people who entered the United States as undocumented before turning 16 known as Dreamers. While DACA is not a means to earn citizenship, it does allow Dreamers to apply for a driver’s license, Social Security number and work permit.
Pimentel is able to work in the United States due to this program.
AB 540, also known as the California Nonresident Tuition Exemption, allows nonresidents and undocumented students who qualify to pay in-state tuition or receive state financial aid.
The Dream Center is a place where students can utilize resources to help them achieve their academic, career and personal goals. Students who come from mixed status families or have undocumented friends are welcome as well. Pimentel wants students from all backgrounds to feel comfortable in the Dream Center.
The Dream Center serves “(n)ot only to provide a physical space, but a sense of belonging, a sense of community, so that (students) can feel seen and valued. Just the positive atmosphere that I really want for them as well. Especially because I was an undocumented student myself. I want to provide the resources and knowledge that I have,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel hopes that undocumented students today will not have to face the same challenges he did.
“For me, paying for college was really difficult. I remember working almost full-time at a restaurant just to be able to support my college education. Also in college I remember not being able to get into academic programs because they would ask for your Social (security Number),” Pimentel said.
He valued classmates and professors who were supportive of his status and acknowledged his experiences.
“They valued my existence in this country even though I wasn’t born here. They valued the fact that I was with them and in college,” Pimentel said.
This is why being the Dream Center coordinator is meaningful to him.
“One of the things I really want to promote is that oftentimes undocumented students feel like they’re alone in the journey of getting a college education and I just want to let them know that we are here for them,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel’s experience as a mental health counselor at La Familia Counseling Services helps him support undocumented students at the Dream Center. At La Familia, he provided short-term mental health services to young immigrants and children from mixed families at a high school in East Oakland.
Understanding what it feels like to be alone in his education journey, Pimentel never wants students at LPC to feel isolated the way that he did.
“I will not let undocumented students be alone here. They belong here as well,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel urges the Las Positas community to be open to the immigrant community.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up. I am here for you, share your journey and I can share my journey. This space is open to everyone regardless of where you were born. You don’t have to be undocumented to use the space,” Pimentel said.
Natalie Kruger is a writer for Express. Follow her @_natalie_kruger.