Uri Lopez

MiraCosta College student Uri Lopez is AB 540.

Born in Ensenada, Lopez has been living in this country without proper documentation since he came here with his family on tourist visa when he was 6 years old.

“I was a little kid,” Lopez said. “It sounded like an adventure. I didn’t know anything about immigration laws.”

But as he grew older, Lopez became well aware of his immigration status. Which is why he never really tried hard in high school.

“I felt college wasn’t an option because of my situation,” Lopez said. “It was only when I met with a counselor at high school who said, `No, you could go to college under AB 540.’ So I enrolled at MiraCosta. Everybody here has been great. I’ve gotten nothing but support.”

Now Lopez is speaking out, trying to encourage others in similar situations to pursue their education under AB 540.

AB 540 is a state law signed in 2001 that allows immigrants without proper documentation to attend college as California residents as long as they have attended high school here for three or more academic years between grades 9 and 12 and have graduated from a California high school, earned a G.E.D. or passed the California High School Proficiency Exam. AB540 students are eligible for financial aid if they meet certain conditions.

Lopez is excelling in school and working up to 50 hours per week. He has secured a driver’s license and a Social Security number and is on his way to becoming an American citizen.

“His being so open with his story will serve to motivate others to seek help and seek more information,” said Wendy Horton, a MiraCosta College counselor who has worked with Lopez.

Estimates put the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at between 11.5 and 12 million, including 1.8 million undocumented children under the age of 18 and 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school in the U.S. each year. Between 7,000 and 13,000 undocumented students are enrolled in college throughout the United States, and most college-bound undocumented students have lived in this country most of their lives and were brought here by their parents at a young age.

Lopez, 22, plans on transferring to a four-year college or university after earning his associate degree from MiraCosta. He dreams of becoming a high school athletic trainer.

Lopez’s odyssey began when shortly after his father came to San Marcos on a tourist visa and landed a job as a butcher in the meat department at a local grocery store. A month later, the rest of the family came. Lopez quickly learned how to speak English while attending San Marcos Academy. He would go on to play football at Vista High School.

There have been a few close calls along the way. Lopez recalls getting pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt while driving through Utah. “I was terrified,” Lopez said. “The officer asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from Vista and I gave him my school ID. It was all good. He let me go.”

Lopez lives with a friend in Vista and can only go to school part time because of his long hours at work. His parents and two siblings are living in Oregon. He hopes to graduate from MiraCosta College soon, and he has no regrets about his decision to enroll at the Oceanside Campus.

“It’s close to home and it is very affordable,” Lopez said. “The instructors are great and I’m getting a good education.”

Information about affordability options for AB 540 students can be accessed at icanaffordcollege.com.