LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Maria Meneses helped organize and announce the march she led, where she represented the Arkansas United Community Coalition. The AUCC, founded in 2010, is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports Arkansas’ immigrant community. It helps immigrants apply for and renew their citizenship status and DACA.
Meneses was born in Guatemala and came to the U.S when she was two years old. Growing up, Meneses did not realize she was undocumented. She reached high school before her mother started to admit it. During this time, the Obama administration devised solutions for undocumented children.
“Luckily, when that announcement came out, I was turning 16, so I was able to apply for DACA,” Meneses said. “I was crying because there was a solution, and he is recognizing and acknowledging that there are people like me and he is trying.”
As a student, she was very involved and held many leadership positions. Meneses graduated in the top ten percent of her high school. She was freshman and sophomore class president, Honors Society president, captain of the track and rugby teams and graduated with a 4.0 in pre-medical biology. She believed she would find a college that would accept her because of all her qualifications but soon realized not much help was given to undocumented students.
“We have to pay out-of-state tuition, and we can’t receive any type of financial aid or anything, even though we pay taxes,” Meneses said. “I thought that was pretty unfair.”
Meneses said it was a struggle to find a university that would accept her. She was finally given a scholarship for University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff but days before moving, it was taken away from her.
“They pull my scholarship away telling me that it was not in their best interest to continue funding for my education, simply because of my DACA status,” Meneses said.
Her scholarship was taken away from her in May, and she could not retrieve her transcripts from the university, but, after a chaotic phase of transition, she was awarded a full-tuition scholarship at Philander Smith College. The university supported Meneses and recognized her effort and perseverance.
“Their mission aligns with my values as well, being a part of social justice, serving the people,” Meneses said.
Karla Condado – News Editor