College Park, Md.–– “The threat of deportation of a close family member, changed my life forever,” said Kristina Mascareñas an advocate of undocumented students at the University of Maryland (UMD).
Mascareñas is a second generation Filipina, which means she is the offspring of immigrant parents who were born and are from the Philippines. Mascareñas’ mother is an artist who has always stood for equality. This value is one that has been instilled in Kai Kai, a nickname she goes by since she was a child. During her childhood, Kai Kai grew up with an awareness of immigrant issues and needs such as living with the ghost of deportation haunting her. While growing up in Chicago, Illinois; Mascareñas experienced and witnessed racial discrimination against immigrants. Her family came to the United States (U.S.) to seek asylum from a difficult political situation that the Philippines was facing and to seek better opportunities. During 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed The Martial Law. This law suspended the civil rights of the Filipino peoples and imposed military authority within the country.
Additionally, Kai Kai’s connection to the immigrant community was shaped by two tragic events that shaped her life. The first, was when a close family member was almost deported. Through this, Kai Kai learned about the broken immigration system and how it can take up to 27 years for Filipino families to be reunited. First hand, she saw the reality that thousands of immigrants were facing. Kai Kai and her family could not do anything to stop this injustice. It left the family separated, she experienced what thousands of immigrants are currently experiencing, family separation due to unjust and inhumane deportations and detention. After the deportation of a loved one, Mascareñas decided to advocate for immigrants by raising awareness on the problem specifically within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. “The Asian community is susceptible to be deported and because they are seen as a model minority nobody realizes that we are undocumented too,” she said.
While in college at Loyola University in Chicago, Mascareñas developed friendships with other undocumented students outside of the AAPI community with the intent to raise awareness of the issues undocumented students face. During her college journey she made a friend from Mexico, whose mother still resided outside of the U.S. Additionally, her Mexican friend was a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, a program implemented by the Obama administration to provide eligible individuals a two year renewable work permit and protection from deportation. This program was specific to immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors. Unfortunately, DACA does not provide a pathway to adjust ones status and it no longer facilitates traveling outside of the county. If a DACA recipient travels outside of the country, the individual risks losing their DACA. Mascareñas’ close friend desperately traveled to Mexico to see his mother who was severely sick and due to the lack of documentation, he could not come back to the U.S. Kai Kai asked herself, “ Why can’t he come back? He just wanted to see his mother who was sick?” This was the question Mascareñas keep asking herself and others. All of the aforementioned experiences have given Mascareñas a sense of responsibility to do something with and for undocumented immigrants.
Currently, Mascareñas works at UMD, as the Coordinator of Asian American and Pacific Islander Students Involvement and Advocacy within the Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA) Office. In her role she provides students part of the AAPI community with mental, emotional, and academic support and resources. However, Mascareñas is always seeking ways to help and support all students whether or not they belong to the AAPI community. One of her biggest struggles as a leader and educator has been creating the space and being a public supporter of undocumented immigrants. She is working on this in order to encourage and allow AAPI students to identify themselves as undocumented without feeling the pressure and living up to the expectations given to them, such as being a model minority. “It is important for the AAPI community to raise awareness about undocumented immigrant issues,” said Mascareñas “ because this racialization and lack of understanding of the issue is not allowing the AAPI community to access and receive the help needed to succeed at the UMD.” The lack of resources and attention to this community is also connected to the fear of shame that could be brought to their families, and the diversity in languages and therefore the lack of access to understanding resources. UMD currently provides support to undocumented students, by having a position that strictly works with undocumented students needs whether they are financial, mental, or academic. This support however came from the advocacy efforts of students, staff, and faculty. Kai Kai was a part of these efforts. “This was not something that the institution decided was needed,” according to Mascareñas. “There is a lot more work to be done at UMD. For instance, all staff and faculty need to be trained on this ever changing issue in order to support undocumented students navigate the University,” said Mascareñas. Currently, Mascareñas hosts events to inform the University about undocumented AAPI students and also works in collaboration with other departments to provide resources to undocumented students.
When Mascareñas was asked what she thought would happen with all the resources that she and others have worked for that help undocumented students if the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) were to pass at a national level, she answered, “Resources will hopefully expand! Passing the DREAM Act would not magically solve all problems at UMD. We would need to focus on how to help students understand the application process, it would take folks 5-10, maybe 15 years to adjust their status and we would still need ongoing retention and support efforts. Also, not all undocumented people would benefit and therefore would remain undocumented. There would still be a lot to do!” The goal for Mascareñas, is to raise funds for a scholarship destined to support and keep the goal of higher education for undocumented students at UMD a reality.