DACA & Undocumented Students


This video talks about Fernanda’s navigation through obstacles in her life while being undocumented until the age of 18 years old. Even though the odds were stacked up against her she managed to work in research in a subject that she is passionate about.

Description of the video:

[SOUND OF STRUMMING GUITAR] As we are interacting with the world around us, we are taking different signals, different visuals, different sounds, and our brain is constantly, very seamlessly taking all of these signals and integrating them to have a coherent percept of the world.

[MUSIC] My name is Fernanda De La Torre. I am a PhD student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT studying multi-sensory perception.

Imagine a glass bottle and imagine there's an object inside of it and I'm moving it in a particular way. If I pair this with the sound of a rolling ball, it will look to you as if the ball was rolling inside the bottle. But then if I pair it with the sound of collisions at specific points, it will look like it's bouncing back and forth. Because vision is what's called ill-posed which means that there are many solutions to what we're perceiving.


What's really cool is that sound can help us identify the actual solution to a what we’re seeing.


And very often it's not the actual physical reality. I work in two different labs. My primary advisor is Josh McDermott and his lab is focused on auditory perception.


Even at the beginning of us working together, he would just send me out into the world and say, “Just pay attention to your experience” “Just kind of hear what you're hearing, see what you're seeing.” “Or go play ping pong with headphones on.” “Like just to see what happens.” “If you don't have sound when you're playing ping pong, does it get more difficult?” And just kind of seeing like, oh, there's this whole playful side to science has just been very special. It gets chaotic...

In my studies with multi-sensory perception, I am looking at what's called intuitive physics. So intuitive physics is this idea that humans have a model in their brain that predicts and simulates how objects are going to interact with one another. And so to study the intersection of intuitive physics and multi-sensory perception, we're using this software developed by the department to simulate physical scenarios where there's also sound.

One scenario is a cube scraping on a surface. If you pair it with a sound of a cube that it's slowing down, stopping and then continuing, your visual perception will change. And so we vary these things and we get people's response and we find that physical congruence does matter, which is very interesting because all of these predictions are typically believed to be done somewhere in the higher level of cognition. But this is something that's happening very automatically and very fast. Where you don't even need to think about it. You simply either see a discontinuity on the motion or you don't. And so we're sort of better understanding how is it that this physics engine that we have in our brain, it's also determining how we're going to integrate sound and vision.

“I can predict its action perfectly.”

In the second lab I work in is Robert Yang's MetaConscious Lab, and my project in his lab is exploring the sense of self using neural networks to try to model agents in an environment. How from all these experiences, all these signals at some point, the idea that we are an agent in the world with control of our actions emerges. That sense of self, this like voice that we develop is very, very important and it helps us get out of situations.

I think if I hadn't had it, I would have stayed in difficult and abusive environments. I grew up in Mexico. My mom was in an abusive relationship and then moved to the US sort of escaping that. And I came a year after when I was 12, I crossed the border illegally. I did the whole like walking in the desert and climbing the fence and so on, only to encounter a new relationship like that in the US. And I ended up leaving home when I was 13, just realizing that it wasn't a good environment. So I was kind of homeless until I was 18.

I was undocumented for many years, working as a waitress and saving up to go to college. And when I was 18, I got a scholarship to study computer science and math at Kansas State University. It allowed me to think of things very differently. It added layers to to my experience; cognition and rules and logic and truth. All of these things were just very attractive to me. And then that's kind of when I knew I have to pursue this. 

I want to spend as much time as I can in this space. I got very lucky and got selected for the postbac here at MIT to do research, take classes if you want to. They invited me to apply to the PhD program. I did rotations and just fell in love with so many different labs and topics. And that's kind of why I'm in two labs right now. Just being in a community where I get to hear these views and everybody's just exploring their minds, exploring the people around them.

So one of the things I see my life taking form in is in using science and my community work as a way to help people get to that place of understanding, “Oh wow, my subjective perspective isn't the ultimate truth!” because I do think it allows us to be more compassionate with each other and know that we can be wrong, right?

I can see a ball rolling, but actually it's bouncing or something like this.


The topic of being an undocumented college student was covered in an interview with Sistema Escolar. Even though undocumented students in the US are restricted in what they can do with degrees, she asserts in the interview that there are many things you can do with a degree.

Description of the video:

Student success story

PBS show, “Fronteras” host Anthony Moreno, discusses with Jazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz about how she found out as a teenager that she was undocumented but still successfully pursued her dream of becoming an attorney.

Description of the video:

local programming on K rwg public
made possible in part by viewers like
you thank you welcome to Frontera so
changing America
I'm your host Anthony Moreno since
President Trump ordered an end to the
deferred action for childhood arrivals
program or daca the future of hundreds
of thousands of people in the u.s. has
been left in limbo today we speak with
an attorney who found out as a teenager
that she was undocumented our guest
applied and was admitted to the daca
program giving her protected status
while on her path to becoming an
attorney here in New Mexico today she
has a green card and shares her
perspective with us as an immigrant in
the United States
please welcome house mean hitters okie
Reese has me thank you so much for
joining us thank you for having me okay
now I want to start off and talk a
little bit about your life now I've met
and interviewed many folks who were in
the daca program or currently in the
daca program and they have shared with
me that they've known their entire life
that they did not have legal status
however your story is a little bit
Jazmins story
different you found out as a teenager
that you didn't have legal status what
was that like
you know I think it's funny that you
mentioned that you haven't talked a lot
of individuals in their situation
because across the immigrant rights
movement we've seen that this is a
pretty common story particularly from
states that are very conservative and so
I grew up in Phoenix Arizona
particularly in Maricopa County at the
time when Dorothea was the sheriff there
and so it was very anti-immigrant there
was a lot of racial profiling and there
was a lot of you know phobia so I think
there was credible fear on my
mother's part to hide the fact that we
were documented and so finding out at
the age of sixteen makes sense because
that that's when teenagers want to get
driver's licenses when we start thinking
about college and it was at the time
when my mom told us but additionally
because she suffered from a stroke and
my twin sister and I thought 10 forests
are contributing to the household the
mom can't do it all on her own anymore
as a 16 year old and all of that
How did you make it work
happening and then wanting to take a
stronger role in your household how did
you make that work so it was really
difficult right because I feel like
there a lot of the foundation who kind
of came crumbling down in the sense that
okay not only do I have to deal with
this new identity but now we have to
figure out how that impacts our ability
to be able to help economically sustain
our family and so this happened to me
for of 2008 and my mom told us and not
too long after that summer we were
living in New Mexico where you know my
mom putting her Google skills to you she
found out that in New Mexico you have
better opportunities to obtain driver's
licenses to go on to college and be able
to get the life that she dreamed of us
having when she came to the u.s. what
What were some of the things that instantly changed
was some of the things as a 16 year old
and learning about this what were some
of the things in your life that
instantly changed
well I instantly knew that in Arizona I
was not even able to get a driver's
license we talked to an attorney and the
attorney said that we would be lucky and
I say we me and my twin sister who is
also documented would be able to go to a
community college according to him in
two years government leader Nick this we
were nowhere in the system and so the
likelihood of us pursuing higher
education and any kind of professional
occupation would be out of the question
which is something that my sister and I
I've always wanted to pursue so how did
How did you make do without legal status
you make do during that time without
legal status well that was really
difficult so immediately after my mom
disposes to us
we started looking at what steps we
needed to take in order to move to New
Mexico which was a more friendly States
towards immigrants and I mean it took a
trick coming down here figuring out
where we were gonna live how we were
gonna be able to pay the bills while we
were here so for some time my mom would
go back and forth between Arizona and
New Mexico to be able to keep working
while she found a place to work here so
How did you make money
what was that like trying to find a
place to live
trying to find some sort of job that may
pay you or anything like that any way to
make money really how was that possible
if you didn't have legal status how did
you make do you know there are many ways
that communities are creative when it
comes to being able to be sustainable
and one of the ways in my family did it
was through feeding small business
owners and we have a contract with other
businesses in order to pay the bills and
so I think that's something that more
people are becoming aware of and it's a
larger issue that if you talked about an
economic development endeavors which is
actually the area of law that I practice
I definitely want to talk with you more
about that and what you're doing now in
regards to to the work that you're doing
as a staff attorney with the New Mexico
immigrant Law Center but let's move
forward a little bit in your life so you
learned as a teenager that you didn't
have legal status then daca becomes
available what were some of your
thoughts when you found out about this
program did you have any concerns about
sharing your information with the
government or applying for it yeah 2012
summer 2012 and at the time I was a
sophomore in college and there was a lot
of hesitation right we knew that there
was a large movement across the country
to try to create some type of larger
systemic change at the time there was a
DREAM Act over there have been multiple
iterations of it and a lot of work
amazing efforts that led the Obama
administration to pass its executive
order but there was a lot of hesitation
and I actually didn't end up getting
done until 2016 and and some of it was
hesitation right I come from a mixed
immigration status family where we have
US citizens legal permanent residents
and documents individuals people who
have humanitarian visas pending and so
that was definitely something that made
me hesitant because in applying for this
benefit a USCIS and immigration will now
have my home address where you have the
mixed immigration status family living
and so that put some of my family
members in danger but it's like from
that hesitation there was also the cost
barrier right as I mentioned I'm an
identical twin and and how do you decide
which twin gets to apply when the
application is roughly five hundred
dollars and when you talk about two of
us that's a thousand dollars and for a
low-income immigrant family is a
substantial barriers so you're an
identical twin you mentioned you had to
make a tough choice on who's going to
apply for daca is that correct no we
actually didn't so the choice was we're
not gonna apply until we have money for
both of us to apply and so that right
2012 month I twenty thirteen fourteen
fifteen and finally in 2016 is when we
applied and were able to obtain doctor
we're talking about four years and
people say why don't you just apply for
citizenship first of all it doesn't work
that way that aren't avenues to
citizenship just because we decide to
pay or apply for it but then the avenues
that are available to get any kind of
protected status it's difficult and it's
burdensome in terms of having to pay for
it so you didn't really get daca or
admitted to the program until you're in
law school is that correct that's
so what was the like going through your
undergraduate years without daca how did
you make do that was really difficult
but luckily in New Mexico there was a
law that was passed another five eighty
two now codified in statute that allowed
individuals regardless of immigration
to pursue higher education and within
that bill there were provisions that if
you met certain conditions you would be
eligible for in-state tuition and the
lottery scholarship which lucky for us
we moved here in time to be able to meet
those conditions and have access to the
lottery scholarship which covered a lot
of tuition not all of it but enough so
that we could continue to contract to be
able to pay for the difference and then
also help at home with the bills so
Without DACA
without that state law do you think you
would have been able to go to college
and your undergraduate years you know I
have met friends who have done it what I
have done it I'm not sure if I would
have had the resources or the
information to be in the same position
that my sons are head that a lot of them
got two three four so see it's degree
before they decided to move to New
Mexico and pursue a bachelor's degree
here and then go on to professional so
Law School
you graduate undergraduate years at
University of New Mexico I believe you
have a business degree is that correct
so what were some of your thoughts on
going to law school I mean you you have
this opportunity and you wanted to
pursue it but you also have a concern
about maybe not being able to even
practice law if once you finish law
school so what can you kind of explain
to me what that process was like and
what were some of your thoughts before
even applying to law school yeah so you
know it's funny you should say that
because it's a little a little more
complicated than that right I was an
undergrad originally like my twin sister
pursuing medical school realizing that
there were various restrictions to
certain programs and then I decided to
pursue business instead and while I was
in business school we're talking about
way back in 2013-2014 right when daca
was so new that you didn't have
individuals in these positions now
applying to professional schools so he's
the first barrier was figuring out
whether or not this institution will
wouldn't allow me and
mission to the program and so that was
the first step right well lost balloon
except to me
well they denied my application because
of my immigration status should I be
open about it I disclosed it should that
be dishonor of my statement of purpose
and at the time I didn't know it but
there were already two law students who
were admitted in the same year at the
unit again this was such a new issue
that people didn't know about it and so
once I get to the law school I need
contact with one of these individuals
who told me why do you think it's gonna
be an issue and I'm telling you because
I've been trying to figure out what's
gonna happen with regard to that and so
sure enough I managed to graduate law
school and then as I'm applying for a
application to take the bar exam I start
realizing this is gonna be difficult
I'm told that even if I pass the bar
exam I may not be able to get admitted
to the profession which happened
and luckily things surgical attorneys
are helping me Amanda Mexico Dream Team
as part of the advocacy organization
that I've been involved in this for
years now were able to create enough
organizing efforts to admit me to the
bar in December of 2017
wow that sounds like quite the journey
How DACA changed his life
there I want to get back to the program
though how did it really change your
life so doctor so when I originally got
almost immediately I was able it opened
a door of opportunities in terms of
being able to Mun what does it mean to
practice law right I open till then I
have been very fortunate that nonprofit
organizations would offer me internships
and turns for being able to pay for
tuition which was great because I worked
to pay for tuition anyway one of the
other things that isn't talked about is
that professional school isn't covered
by the lottery scholarship and we're
talking about a tuition of fifteen
thousand dollars a year and how do you
pay for that right when we're in
competitive programs we're working is
often out of the question although we do
it right and so it offered me the
start working at the City Attorney's
Office which was a huge wage increase
and I used that job to be able to pay
for Law School but it also opened the
door to job opportunities that I didn't
have before right like the government
sector often times individuals in our
positions stay away from these types of
institutions because they generally are
seen as someone who's not going to be
receptive to our situation
so in recent years we've seen obviously
His thoughts on Trumps decision to end DACA
a dramatic change to doc I'd kind of
like to hear your thoughts when he found
out that the president decided to end
the program yeah you know that was a
really difficult time but I knew that it
wasn't going to be the end-all be-all
and the reason I say that is because our
community has been resourceful in being
here before daca was implemented but
personally I knew that it was going to
be a big issue for me because even
though daca allowed me protection you
gave me employment authorization for two
years in a Social Security number I knew
that it wasn't enough to get admitted to
the bar and when the Trump
administration decided to ascend on
September 5th of 2017 it hit me really
hard because that was my first day as an
attorney as my fellowship and I was
worried that that would affect the fact
that the New Mexico border Bar Examiners
and the Supreme Court would deny my bar
admission application which they did and
it was exactly for that reason they knew
that daca wasn't a permanent program and
they knew that employment authorization
would not was not of for a lack of
better terms unlimited duration under
that program Wow so do you still have
His concerns for DACA recipients
any concerns you know for for those who
are in daca right now and perhaps going
through college like you were or in
their final years of getting a degree or
starting to work can you kind of share
with us from your perspective what's at
yeah you know I think but me and it's
really close to home because my
identical twin sisters in her last year
medical school and she's currently
applying for general surgery residency
programs across the country and her goal
is to see and treat patients in New
Mexico right in our language to be able
to provide that cultural competency but
we know that because of the program that
she's in employment authorization will
be vital and so if employment
authorization isn't something that can
be renewable then you're not employable
and if you're not employable then you
cannot practice in your area right
that's a different facet of can I even
up to obtain my life in shirt so it's a
huge issue right we're talking about an
economic issue we're talking about the
continuation of education and then we're
also talking about entering the
workforce now you have your green card
His concerns for his twin sister
right now you mentioned your identical
twin sister is in the program are you
concerned that you know what happens
with if the Supreme Court decides that
this program that the Trump
administration was legal in doing what
they did by ending the program what are
your concerns in regards and perhaps
Congress doesn't take it up how can this
impact your family I mean I think we're
talking about more than just my family
right it infects anyone who has doctor
and it means two types of programs and
there cause all programs right it's not
just law school medical schools dental
hygiene we're talking about different
types of professional additional
licensing that's at stake here and so
for my family particularly Erick my
sister has been in school for years for
her bachelor's degree four years for a
medical school and she still has a good
seven years to go for her surgery
residency program and so she may not be
able to practice if doctor goes away at
this point unless there's another avenue
for her to adjust her status which in
reality the immigration system is so
cumbersome that there are not avenues
for some individuals to be able to
obtain a green card or and be on the
pathway for citizenship
New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
okay now I want to talk about the work
that you're doing right now with the New
Mexico immigrant Law Center now you work
with immigrant families in economic
development and also work in policy
advocacy for children and community
education and in different projects can
kind of share with me how everyday you
see what is at stake yeah so you know I
think it's funny because most of our
clients come to us trying to sneak
immigration relief right there's this
narrative of why don't people just get
legal people are trying to do that every
day what I'm saying is the system it's
not that easy so what I propose when my
postgraduate fellowship was to bring an
economic development component where I
practiced the intersection of business
tax and consumer protection law and the
effect that immigration law has on that
and if you don't have access to
immigration relief how you can be
economically sustainable within the
current system as it currently exists
which is what we're doing right and so I
have clients who come to me and it turns
out that they want to start a business
and they want to figure out how to do
that right so that they can pay their
taxes and be sustainable and sometimes
it turns out that this particular
individual has never spoken to an
immigration attorney and they're
eligible for relief and so those are the
happy stories right I've had some
clients who come to me help some kind of
issue that they have with the IRS or the
New Mexico taxation and revenue
Department and then it turns out that we
can get them a green card and so then
that is not only economic sustainability
for them but also protection from
but if if every day right you have even
individuals for a time to become
citizens you'll have green cards that
need help with tax issues as well
because all these areas a large
generally practiced in a vacuum but you
cannot talk about immigration law
without talking about the implications
of tax law or the patient's of consumer
protections because these are largely
vulnerable communities and states like
so what do you think state lawmakers can
What can state lawmakers do
do in New Mexico to ensure that people
who may not have legal status or people
who want to start a business who are
immigrants can can really pursue you
know the American Dream and make a
difference and to the economy here in
our state I think there there are a lot
of things that can be done one of the
things that we're doing right now is a
coalition that the New Mexico at Austin
I'm gonna Mexico dream to sit on is
trying to pass professional and
occupational licensing bill to remove
immigration status as a barrier in order
to be able to practice the area whether
it was professional education or we're
talking about occupational licenses as
well that required specific licenses
right New Mexico is one of the it's the
ninth most difficult state to obtain
professional and occupational licensing
and that's one part right and then the
other part is commercial licensing there
is this federal law 8 USC 1621 that
essentially says undocumented immigrants
cannot have access to a public benefit
public benefit has been interpreted to
mean licensing unless the state passes a
law saying otherwise and so that's
exactly what we're asking the
legislature to do we need to pass this
law and it's not only access to that
professional licensing it's an economic
and educational issue ok now I want to
New Mexico Dream Team
also talk about the work you were doing
with a New Mexico dream team
now many folks who are in daca hope to
pursue daca or just dreamers in general
who have been looking for a path to
citizenship for nearly 20 years in not
only our state but our country tell us
about the work that that you're doing
with them and the advocacy advocacy work
that you're doing as well yeah so I
really love talking about the dream team
because I'm one of the founding members
and there's a large focus of Education
justice and making
sure first educating the educational
institutions on a Senate bill 585 right
up I'm sorry Senate bill 582 which
passed back in 2005 there are still
institutions to this day that denied
in-state tuition or access to state
funding for school because there isn't
an awareness about this law and then the
other thing is how do you work with
students who aren't legal permanent
residents who are US citizens because
it's not just talking about undocumented
students you're talking about students
will have other types of visas that
these particular individuals aren't used
to working with and so it's a large
educational component but it's also
organizing we organized the youth to
know their rights to know what the law
says that they have access to an
education but also so that within
themselves there's a social
consciousness for them to be engaged in
the work that's happening across the
state now you found out that you didn't
Jazmins Advice
have legal status when you're 16 years
old what were some things that you would
tell somebody who today is in that same
position I would tell them not to get
discouraged there are communities have
been here for so long right this whole
legal status or borders as a social
construct that we can push back on and
if they can still continue to go to
college do not very second thing that
you can't if that's what you want to do
if you want to open a business and not
pursue college that's something that we
can do as well but I think it's vital to
get in contact with individuals who have
had that lived experience so that you
have access to resources to help you
think through what does it mean and how
can I make sure that I'm successful
regardless what would you say to
Jazmin Advice to Policymakers
policymakers who are in office right now
who are in Congress right now who could
actually make a difference on this issue
and bring this up for a discussion what
would you say to them you know I would
say that this is something that would
benefit New Mexico right
migrants are a large part of our state
they contribute largely to the economy
but there are also individuals who are
really hardworking and our
representatives know this our
representatives work with us all the
time where you know as much as people
may not realize it we're up at the
Roundhouse talking to people and
educating them on a lot of issues when
the legislative session comes around and
so they know our faces they know we're
there and I just ask that they support
us and these efforts that are beneficial
to Mexico okay so what about lawmakers
Jazmin Advice to Congress
who maybe outside of New Mexico in
Congress who may not be familiar with
the issues that many in New Mexico face
what would you say to them I would say
to them you know if we're talking
specifically about doctor is that this
is something that should be calm statute
as an executive order that is a danger
that people on my administration knew
could happen that another administration
could come and take it away and so if
there's anything that Congress can do
right now is to make sure that you go
back to the drawing table and consider
policy a more permanent policy that
allows other individuals to have a
pathway to citizenship has mean it is
okay Ruiz is a staff attorney for the
New Mexico immigrant Law Center has mean
thank you so much for joining us and
sharing your story on from data so
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