When Dario Guerrero, an illegal immigrant who found out about his status in high school, told Harvard that he was in the country illegally, the school encouraged him to apply–and gave him a full scholarship after he was accepted.
Writing in the Washington Post, Guerrero, who is currently a junior at the university, said after an MIT official recommended that he not apply to the school during a trip to visit college, he “left the office in a daze” because MIT had been his dream school. He started walking down Massachusetts Avenue” and, “without really planning it, I found myself in the middle of Harvard.” A Harvard admissions officer told him, “If you are admitted to Harvard College, we will meet your full financial need without regard to your legal status.”
He eventually got in, and “they gave me a full ride. This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about student loans or quarterly tuition payments; that I always had a place to stay away from home; that I could travel every semester, on Harvard’s dime, back to California; that my parents would never have to worry whether I’d finish school. Those are luxuries few people, documented or not, ever have.”
“I used to think that being undocumented was a disadvantage to me. I used to mourn the fact that I was different,” the current junior wrote. “But ultimately I realize that it was because of, not in spite of, my identity — as an undocumented Chicano — that I was been able to do what I did. Being something different in the socioeconomic fabric of the United States gave me the perspective I have.”
Guerrero revealed that he was a junior in high school when he realized he was an illegal immigrant. A community college where he was taking extra courses called him and informed him that “the Social Security number I had provided to receive college credit did not match my name, and if I couldn’t provide a valid number, I’d have to pay almost $2,000 for the classes I’d taken.” When he asked his parents why his Social Security number had been rejected, they told him in Spanish, “Son, we overstayed our visa when you were three. You don’t have a social security number.”
“So much of what had happened to me finally made sense. I’d never really needed a Social Security number before El Camino, and whenever I asked if I could visit family in Mexico, my parents told me I had to wait for my ‘papers’ to sort themselves out with the government,” he wrote. “The few times I asked if I could get a job, my father took me with him to sweep the floors on his construction sites.”
Guerrero says he tells other illegal immigrants that “the opportunity to one day join the 6.2 percent” of the high school students Harvard admits, “the 1 percent, or even just the 100 percent of legal residents who live without fear of deportation) is worth crossing the border for.”