Cristian Sanchez, 22, was 5 years old when she left her native city of Guadalajara in 1995. Using the birth certificates of children who were U.S. citizens, Sanchez and her younger brother crossed the border at Tijuana with family friends.
That day is little more than a blur, she said. Sanchez's parents crossed the border for a better life in the United States, as have so many other undocumented immigrants. Still, it's been a struggle ever since.
"Even when we came to the U.S., we were pretty much low-income my whole life," said Sanchez, who in 2008 was part of the first graduating class of Roseland University Prep in Santa Rosa.
She was accepted to the University of California, Riverside, but because of her immigration status she had few options for paying the costly tuition and housing. She applied for scholarships, held fundraisers and took up a collection, but still came up short.
Until Lee Hunt stepped in.
<CW-12>While Sanchez was in high school, Hunt, an attorney who volunteered at RUP, had taken an interest in Cristian, who was one of the school's top students.</CW>
"There was no way that she would be able to afford to go to a UC," Hunt said. "A friend of mine and I just decided that she was a worthy student and that it would be great to help her out."
Sanchez said that many of her classmates at RUP were in her situation, undocumented and from low-income families. Their academic aspirations are often tempered by what they can afford.
Hunt and her friend not only paid Sanchez's tuition, they also paid for her housing and gave her a $500 monthly stipend for food and clothing. Sanchez repaid that gesture by earning her bachelor's degree in public policy and graduating with honors, and Hunt says she couldn't be prouder.
Sanchez is what's known as a Dreamer, a term that refers to young undocumented immigrants who potentially qualify for the proposed Dream Act, legislation that would grant a pathway for citizenship to certain immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children.