Bridging Two Worlds - DACA Recipient Admitted Early to Harvard

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This article was originally published in the The Almanac and can be found in full here

“There’s been an update to your application,” stated an email Menlo School senior Santy Mendoza received Dec. 14.

Standing behind him, his mom, sister and grandma clustered together as he logged into his student portal. Dad appeared in the room virtually, via FaceTime.

Heart racing, Santy said a silent prayer.

His mom told him, “It doesn’t matter what happens. You’ve worked so hard.”

He clicked the button. “Congratulations,” the email read.

In shock, Santy turned to his mom. “Oh,” he said quietly. “I got in.”

The tears, the joy and the complicated questions of what Santy’s early Harvard admission means would follow in the minutes, days and weeks to come.

Santy, who will be a first—generation college student, is a current beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a policy enacted by the Obama administration in 2012 that gives people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children temporary legal status and protection from deportation. Recipients of this protection are expected to renew their applications every two years.

In September 2017, the Trump administration announced that DACA would end, but the decision is being challenged in the courts. In January 2018, a federal judge in California issued a national preliminary injunction that allows existing DACA recipients to renew their status. A federal appeals court upheld that injunction in November.

At this point, Santy doesn’t know whether he will be permitted to renew his protected status when it expires, which is expected to happen in October of his sophomore year in college.

From Mexico to Menlo

Santy — short for Jose Santiago Mendoza Real — was born in a small town outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, where he lived until his family moved to Kansas. When he was around 9, his family moved to East Palo Alto.

He attended middle school at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto. He recalls the support of Principal Amika Guillaume, and being told that a large percentage of kids in East Palo Alto don’t graduate high school, and that about a quarter of the students at the school were homeless, or had to live in a shelter or with extended family.

An avid soccer player, Santy explained that the only reason he even heard about Menlo School, a private school in Atherton, was because of an after-school program, Citizen Schools, where he would wait out the gap of time between the end of school and the start of soccer practice and took an extracurricular course about local private school opportunities.

His mentor in that after-school program, Rene Jimenez, recalls that Santy, as a middle school student, had decided he wanted to apply to private high schools. At the time, Jimenez said, he was working in a teacher assistant-type role and all he had to offer Santy was an Independent School Entrance Exam test prep book. “You have three weeks — good luck,” he remembers saying. “That was all the resources I could give him. He came back after taking the test — and that’s when I found out how brilliant this kid was. He scored high on every section.”