LUIS LIANG, 22: DREAMS OF LEADING A NON-PROFIT

Luis Liang

Luis Liang worked hard at school, and felt like his hard work had finally paid off when he found out he had been awarded a full-ride scholarship—covering tuition, room and board—to U.C. Berkeley in 2009. To an undocumented immigrant whose family couldn’t come close to affording a costly Berkeley tuition, it all seemed too good to be true.

And it was. 

When Luis arrived on campus to start his fall semester, he was asked for his Social Security number so the university could finalize the scholarship arrangements. But he doesn’t have one. The university’s response: California law prohibited Luis from receiving the publicly funded scholarship because of his undocumented status.

Devastated, Luis returned to Orange County, where he went back to community college and began working again as a tutor as he tried to figure out the next steps he would take. Before long, he realized he wanted to get involved in the struggle for a level playing field for other students like him who are undocumented. He started a support organization, the Fullerton College DREAM Team, and soon learned about various private scholarships available to DREAMers. 

The next year, Luis was back on the Berkeley campus as a full-time student in the Haas School of Business. With two private scholarships helping to cover his tuition, Luis graduated in May 2012. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and holds three jobs—one as a consultant, one as an accountant for a nonprofit organization, and one as a financial coach helping immigrants. Looking ahead, he hopes to use his business education to start a nonprofit that will help students from immigrant and low-income families get a higher education.

Luis’s mother still lives in Orange County, where she works at a flea market and in various factory jobs that an agency finds for her. His mother and father divorced shortly after coming to the United States from Mexico with Luis and his three sisters. His father returned to Mexico; his mother stayed in the United States to take care of the children.

Luis remembers the day in summer 2012 when President Obama announced that undocumented young people would be able to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “I saw the news on Facebook and I instantly called my mom,” he said. “DACA is going to allow me to apply to any job I want. It means I don’t have to worry now about all the barriers that have been in front of me for all these years.”

While he was at Berkeley, Luis, who is gay, became friends with other gay and lesbian students who were also undocumented. “We are a double minority and we tend to stick together,” he said.

Luis said the LGBT DREAMers Fund meets a largely unrecognized need for support for LGBT undocumented immigrants. “It’s thrilling to know we have the support of both the immigrant rights and the gay communities and to see them standing together for equality and justice,” he said.