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Latina law school grads dream up new way to help undocumented students

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Few students have the necessary funds to pay for law school out of pocket, especially when tuition costs $25,000 per semester. Gabriela Garcia, a 29-year-old from Mexico and a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), is one student who was nearly forced to quit law school.

In 2016, Garcia had a week to pay a final $5,000, or she would have been dropped from her courses at University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law.

“There really is a serious problem for DREAMers in professional schools,” said Bill Hing, the director of Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at USF. “And the feds don’t do much for DREAMers.”

Garcia confided in her peer, Monica Valencia, 35, that she was in desperate need of help.  Valencia agreed to speak with her mentors Hing and Jacqueline Brown Scott about Garcia’s situation, in hopes of finding a solution. Together, the three brainstormed ideas before jumping into action—they would start a fundraiser for Garcia.

After the success of the fundraiser, Valencia had the realization that Garcia was not the only undocumented student who needed financial help for school. In December of 2016, Valencia and Garcia came up with the idea to start the Dreamer Fund, a program that would help other students, who were facing similar financial difficulties, in paying for their education.

Since its founding, Dreamer Fund has awarded three scholarships (two for $1,000 and one for $500) and has expanded their executive board to a total of 13 members. It has also created a mentor-mentee program, allowing it to offer assistance to other students.

“I am very appreciative and honored to have this team in this fight,” Valencia said. “Nothing that we do works without the entire team.”

To raise money in the past, Dreamer Fund has asked artists to donate art that would be sold in a silent auction. Now, in their largest campaign yet to raise money, they have put together #Undocufest. Billed as Dreamer Fund’s “inaugural fundraiser,” #Undocufest will take place on Feb. 10, 2018 at El Rio bar located in the Mission District. The event aims to bring together music and art in “celebration of the community,” said Garcia.

Along with a silent auction, there will be performances by DJ’s, bands, hip-hop and spoken-word artists, and a special performance by members of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, including Hing, Brown, and Alex Mensing, project coordinator for Pueblo sin Fronteras.

“We wanted engagement and advocacy,” said Valencia. “We wanted to include the students and the community.” They are expecting a turnout of about 300 people.

Both Garcia and Valencia knew they wanted to go to law school from a very young age. Garcia, who is originally from Michoacán, plans to graduate from USF this May. Valencia, who was raised in Los Angeles the daughter of two immigrants, recently finished law school at USF.

“It started with an emergency and now we’re in the process of making it an official nonprofit organization,” said Garcia.

Story by: Destiny Arroyo